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Russians Protest Economic Conditions, Lack of Freedom

Thousands of demonstrators rallied throughout Russia. They're upset over how the government has handled the economic crisis, they want more political freedoms and they're demanding that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin resign.

The rallies, dubbed the "Day of Anger," by Russia's political opposition, drew thousands in cities such as St. Petersburg, Vladivostok and Irkutsk. The Kremlin critics say they are tired of the way the government is running the country.

In Vladivostok, opposition leaders had a list of demands, including the dismissal of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government and the return of direct elections for governors, which was stopped in 2004.

Vladimir Bespalov is head of Vladivostock's committee of the Communist Party. He said his group is protesting against a power monopoly of the ruling party United Russia and against the antisocial policy of Mr. Putin's government which doesn't pay enough attention to the people in the Far East.

Most demonstrators say their main concern is money. They are upset with the rising cost of gas and electricity, they want their pensions increased and they want a decrease in the taxes on the import of used cars.

Roman Gulyaev said the government's decision to hike tariffs on imported cars destroyed the economy.

Gulyaev says most people made their money on used car importing and small cross border trading. He says most of those industries were destroyed by the authorities and then they did nothing to replace the industry.

Some protesters also had another beef with authorities. They say that local authorities tried to keep opposition protestors from the rallies by telling local media that the demonstration had been banned and taking leaflets advertising the rally.

Artyom Samsonov is an activist with the group Tigr. He said the local authorities lied, whatever they said about a planned fair , whatever they did to get rid of flyers informing about this meeting and to prevent activists from distributing protest newspapers, the people are nevertheless displeased with authorities and came here today to say this.

Demonstrators in Irkutsk rallied against the planned re-opening of a paper mill on Lake Baikal. Environmentalists say that the mill will pollute the lake and the local environment.

Participant Yekaterina Morgoroyeva said she cancelled her plans for today in order to come and to show that Russians don't want our Baikal to become a waste dump.

There have also been several protests in recent months against Mr. Putin's United Russia Party. Analysts blame the economic crisis, which brought an end to a near decades- long growth spurt and brought unemployment to nearly 10 percent.

Andrei Petrov said things have to change. He said Russians are against the monopoly of one party, United Russia, that is now actually ruling the country. He says Russia also needs genuine democratic values for the development of the country.

Last year, gross domestic product fell to its lowest since 1994, dropping by about eight percent.