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Russian Opposition Demands Right to be Heard

Russia's fledgling opposition held another anti-corruption rally in Moscow Monday. Rally organizers representing the Other Russia coalition say a relatively small turnout does not mean the opposition lacks popular support, but rather, that it lacks access to television. VOA's Moscow correspondent Peter Fedynsky has more from the Russian capital.

Demonstrators on Moscow's Pushkin Square chanted, "We need a different Russia!" And while the protesters represented different parts of the political spectrum, they agreed on the right to express opposing views not only among themselves, but to the people of Russia.

Addressing the crowd, former chess grand champion and now opposition leader Gary Kasparov listed some of the problems that need to be addressed, problems he says, that the country's rulers and bureaucratic elites are neglecting.

Kasparov says the problem could be a public square or children's playground seized by commercial and bureaucratic interests. Or he says, it could be meager pensions, high inflation, crumbling infrastructure, and the absence of freedom. Kasparov added that every Russian's personal security is held hostage by officials who place their personal interests above the common good.

Several speakers and people in the crowd mentioned "chynovnyky," or bureaucratic officials who stand in the way of Russian progress.

Among the demonstrators was Raissa Fedorovna, a retiree and former newspaper vendor who says she waged a 10-year struggle against such officials who tried to illegally seize her apartment. In the end, she lost.

Fedorovna says authorities last year presented a counterfeit title to take her property. Formal complaints failed because, as she alleges, the police, prosecution and the courts, are on the side of the bureaucrats.

A substantial security presence, including police in riot helmets and flak jackets, surrounded the demonstration. Authorities were quick to turn off the electricity as soon as the demonstration permit expired. They did not, however, stop a truck that circled the area blasting mocking noises at the demonstrators.

Protesters ignored the distraction, and expressed confidence that the opposition will do well in upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections, despite the fact that few people attended or even knew of the demonstration. Gary Kasparov said access to television is a key to spreading opposition messages.

Two weeks of uncensored television, says Kasparov, is all that is needed to disrupt the regime, because the people will hear the truth about what they now suspect to be a corrupt government.

Another opposition leader, Eduard Limonov said a mere half hour of television access would be sufficient.

The rally in Moscow was the ninth in recent months held in various Russian cities. About 3,000 demonstrators attended one such protest on Saturday during a major international economic forum in Saint Petersburg.

Both rallies ended peacefully. Earlier opposition demonstrations were dispersed by force, which caused an international public relations problem for the Kremlin.