Moscow: Around 29,000 protesters rallied in Moscow Saturday to demand new
parliamentary elections in Russia.
A long line of metal detectors were set up on the streets as
participants were screened one by one. Rally organisers at the
scene, however, estimated the turnout number at several times
higher than the police figure.
As the demonstration swelled, the Kremlin moved to respond in real
time, with a spokeswoman for President Dmitry Medvedev announcing
that reforms to ease restrictions on political parties could be
Dozens of protesters were detained across Russia. Protests took
place in many cities, drawing from several dozen to several
Ten activists from The Other Russia opposition group were detained
in St. Petersburg, Russia's second largest city, 22 protesters
were held in Nizhny Novgorod in central Russia and about 20 were
detained in the Siberian city of Barnaul.
The atmosphere on Moscow's Sakharov Avenue was calm but determined
as citizens turned out to express their opposition to the Dec 4
"Our votes were stolen!" Alexei Navalny -- an anti-corruption
whistleblower, who has become a driving force in the protest
movement -- shouted to the crowd from a stage installed at one end
of the avenue.
"We came here to get them back! Give them back right now!" he said
to cheers from the crowd.
Boris Nemtsov, a long-time Putin critic and former deputy prime
minister, also addressed the demonstrators, and appealed to them
to vote in the presidential elections March 4 "but not to cast one
single vote for Putin".
"Let's keep Putin out of the Kremlin!" he said, after which the
crowd began chanting: "Russia Without Putin! Russia Without Putin!"
Communists waved red flags, nationalists waved yellow-and-black
banners of imperial Russia and liberals waved white flags above
the sea of people in downtown Moscow.
Many participants held white balloons and wore white ribbons in
lapels as symbols of the protest.
Many in the crowd, however, made it clear they had taken to the
street not to support the Putin critics but to express their own
views on the state of politics in Russia.
"We have a fine Constitution and it gives every citizen the legal
right to public assembly and to expression of our opinions," said
Saturday's protest came two weeks after a similar rally was held
to protest the result of the elections to the lower house of
parliament, the State Duma, which were won by Putin's United
The demonstrators, a diverse group of citizens, political and
social movements and internet activists, have voiced many demands
including a rerun of the elections and the sacking of the
country's top election official, Vladimir Churov.
Medvedev and Putin have vowed to investigate and punish election
violators but have given no indication that they are willing to
repeat the Duma vote.
Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin also addressed a mass
demonstration in Moscow Saturday against the recent elections but
called on participants to pursue their demands for political
change in an organised way and steer well clear of a revolution.
He said the reform process needed to begin with passage of new
laws on political parties followed by legal registration of those
parties and an election campaign.
"Only after that can we hold elections," Kudrin said.
Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova, meanwhile, said that
proposals put forth by Medvedev to loosen restrictions on
political parties could be put into action soon.
"As soon as the bill goes to the Duma and the Federation Council,
and we hope that will happen quickly, the president will sign it
and parties will be able to register under new rules," Timakova