News / Europe

Opposition Rally Draws Tens of Thousands in Moscow

James Brooke
MOSCOW - Braving thunderstorms over Moscow and police raids on opposition offices, tens of thousands of people turned out Tuesday, filling the capital's leafy boulevard ring road with a long river of protesters.

Earlier, President Putin tried to cut the turnout by dramatically raising penalties for unauthorized protests and by ordering police raids on top opposition leaders.  On protest day, many top leaders missed the rally because they were undergoing police interrogations.

But the crackdown may have backfired, as the protesters appeared to have a new energy.

Elizabeth, a 15-year-old student, walked with her mother and carried a sign reading, "Back to Future 2012 = 1937"

The year 1937 was the year when Stalinist repression sharpened.  Elizabeth complained that she was among the more than 400 protesters detained at the protest on the day before Mr. Putin's May 7 inauguration.

  • Demonstrators hold the flags of various groups during a massive protest against Putin's rule in Moscow, Tuesday, June 12, 2012.
  • Protesters carry a banner reading, "Russia Go Forward without Putin" in Moscow.
  • Activists hold a huge Russian Empire flag during protests in Moscow.
  • Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny speaks to the media at the headquarters of the Russian Investigation committee in Moscow, June 12, 2012.
  • A view of one of the rooms in Alexei Navalny's flat, after a police search. Russian investigators searched the apartments of several protest leaders Monday and called them in for questioning Tuesday.
  • Russian President Vladimir Putin attends an awards ceremony for achievements in culture and science in Moscow's Kremlin June 12, 2012.
  • Participants at the anti-government protest in Moscow.
  • Participants march with flags and placards in Moscow.
  • The badge on the right reads, "I'm against". The badge on the left is the symbol for the protest movement.

Nearby, Kirill, a 22-year-old student, said he came because he believes Russia's ruling elite is getting rich off the nation's oil and natural resources. He said he hope his generation will see a Russia where the rule of law is respected.

Many marchers were young people.  Some analysts say the new crackdown echoes themes in Russian literature in which an older generation seeks to prolong its control over the younger generation.

Analyst Masha Lipman, of the Carnegie Moscow Center, said the first month of the new Putin presidency has shown a clear trend toward a political crackdown. "The  searches, the raids, the new law, the ordinary protesters being arrested, which is especially alarming because people identify every easily with a person who is just a Muscovite, just a young person, just a businessman.  The problem is that when you step on this path, it is very difficult to stop," she said.

Nearby, Alexander Shvedov, a 53-year-old engineer, held a Biblical banner and said his Christian opposition group is deliberately leaderless. He said Monday's raids on opposition leaders justified his group's decision to exist largely on the Internet.

Torrential rainstorms opened and closed the four-hour march and rally.  In between, the outdoor event took on the air of a political fair.

Dressed in black, a squad of anarchists waved red and black flags. They chanted, "It is forbidden to forbid."

Communists waved red banners and broke into old Soviet songs.  Russian nationalists waved their gold, white and black czarist banners. They chanted, "Moscow is a Russian city."

Marina, a writer, walked rapidly, to stay well ahead of the nationalists.  She complained they were "strange".  She fears the nationalists, communists, and anarchists are better organized than liberals who advocate, what she calls, "normal human values."

Tuesday is a national holiday, Russia Day.

President Putin took advantage of the day to appeal for national unity. Speaking on state-run television, he said, "Only together will we go forward."

But as he spoke, political repression continued.  Police searched the apartment of one opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, and the office of another, Alexei Navalny.

A third leader, Ilya Yashin, emerged from a police interrogation to tell reporters he believes all three leaders will face charges stemming from the capital's last big protest, on May 6, the day before Mr. Putin's inauguration for a third term.

At the Tuesday rally, a police helicopter flew constantly overhead, filming the protesters.

Here the rotors almost drown out chants of, "Russia without Putin."

Hidden on side streets stood lines of muscular riot police, known here as 'cosmonauts' for their bubble helmets.

Protesters were friendly with city police. Walking past one Moscow police detachment, protesters broke into a chant. They chanted, "Police with the people.  Do not serve the fools."

At the end of the day, no arrests were reported at protests here or in St. Petersburg, or in Novosibirsk - Russia's three most-populous cities.

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Comments
     
by: Anonymous
June 13, 2012 4:08 AM
No countries going to the next Russian Olympics would be icing on the cake too.

by: Anonymous
June 13, 2012 4:07 AM
Excellent News! I couldn't be happier than to see this. What Mr Putin has now is his own Arab spring, something he entirely deserves in his own country. Sticking his nose in Syria is wrong, and his human rights record is stinkingly terrible. As well corruption won't be tolerated this day and age Mr Putin. He entirely deserves this after what he is trying to pull in Syria. I certainly hope the Russian people don't back down from him, and not only fight for their rights to democracy but also because he is a terrible dictator. He has allowed the same atrocities to take place that he implemented in Chechnya (Kill everyone was his philosophy). We (The west) like the Russian people, I have several friends, none of which like Putin at all over here. They feel bad for their people back home in Russia that they have to live in such a non democractic place. Mr Putin not only are you getting tallied for your stupid mistakes with the west, your own people are tallying you too. Smarten up or you will be overthrown next.

by: Gennady from: Russian Federation, Volga
June 12, 2012 7:34 PM
I don’t believe the illegitimate “President’s” appeal. There can’t be unity with the man who stole election, whose place is behind the bars, with lawlessness, gagged press, denying basic human rights. Putin’s clumsy efforts to intimidate people with the anticonstitutional law hurried by illegitimate Duma & “President” have just stirred up radicalization. Communists started dominate in protests with the demand of nationalization of natural resources beside “Putin to step down”.

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