Moscow: Public anger over alleged electoral fraud in favour of Prime
Minister Vladimir Putin's party is expected to bring thousands out
onto the streets of Russia Saturday in the largest demonstrations
here for almost two decades.
"Now is the time to unite...we are demanding new elections,"
prominent opposition activist Yevgeniya Chirikova said in an
Internet video address on the eve of the rallies.
Protests - both sanctioned and not sanctioned by the authorities -
are planned for scores of Russian cities and towns, from the
European exclave of Kaliningrad to Vladivostok on the Pacific
But the biggest demonstration is to take place in Moscow, where
city authorities have given permission for a 30,000-strong rally
at Bolotnaya Square, across the Moskva river from the Kremlin.
The Moscow demonstration was originally set to go ahead at the
much smaller - although far more central - Revolution Square. A
number of opposition groups have vowed to rally there regardless
of the decision to relocate the protest, raising the specter of
clashes with police. Putin warned earlier in the week that police
would crack down on illegal demonstrations.
Putin also accused the US of being behind the protests, saying
that criticism of last Sunday's parliamentary polls by Secretary
of State Hillary Clinton "set the tone for some opposition
activists" and also "gave them a signal".
"People in our country don't want the situation in Russia to
develop like it did in Kyrgyzstan and, not so long ago, in
Ukraine," Putin also said. "Nobody wants chaos."
While the polls saw Putin's United Russia party suffer its worst
ever result, it just managed to hang onto its parliamentary
majority. But allegations have since surfaced - included dozens of
video clips uploaded onto the Internet - of ballot-stuffing and
other electoral procedure violations. President Dmitry Medvedev
has said the claims of fraud will be investigated.
Disgruntlement over the polls saw some 5,000 protesters rally in
central Moscow Monday. Demonstrations continued across Russia,
although on a smaller scale, for the next two evenings. Some 1,000
people have so far been arrested in protests, police said,
including influential blogger and opposition activist Alexei
Navalny, along with another opposition leader, Ilya Yashin, was
jailed for 15 days Tuesday.
The protests have been largely ignored by state-run televisions
channels, which chose instead to broadcast images of United Russia
supporters parading near the Kremlin.
Demonstrations have been organized via Facebook and Vkontakte, a
popular Internet social networking site. Vkontakte's founder,
Pavel Durov, said this week he had refused a request by the
security services to deactivate accounts belonging to opposition
Russia's chief doctor, Gennady Onishchenko, urged Russians Friday
not to attend the demonstrations, saying the "cold weather" and
the "large groups of people" meant they would be in danger of