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Thousands protest in Moscow demanding fresh vote

Sunday December 25, 2011 07:04:29 AM, RIA Novosti

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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 enacted quickly.

Dozens of protesters were detained across Russia. Protests took place in many cities, drawing from several dozen to several thousand people.

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 elections.

"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 one demonstrator.

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 Russia party.

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 said.









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