Share this article

print logo

Thousands in Russia protest over nagging economic woes

Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets Saturday across Russia, demanding the resignation of local and national leaders, including Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, over lingering economic woes.

A coalition of opposition groups, hoping to channel rising anxiety over unemployment and financial policy into anti-government activism, had called for nationwide protests under the slogan "Day of Wrath."

In Moscow, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov had banned the demonstration, and rows of riot police lined the perimeter of a bustling square in the city's historic heart to prevent protesters from gathering.

Police pounced as demonstrators slipped from the crowds of bystanders to unfurl banners, light flares or erupt into slogans such as "Down With Putin." They seized the demonstrators and dragged them, kicking and hollering, into waiting paddy wagons.

"Shame! Shame!" yelled the crowd as the police shoved the protesters into the vans. "Fascists!"

City police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said 70 people had been detained for taking part in the protest.

The opposition had applied for a permit but ignored the city's denial. Because the Russian constitution guarantees the right to assembly, they argued, they had no real obligation to ask for the city's permission.

"The Luzhkov government should resign, the Putin government should resign," opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov told reporters. "We'll hold our gathering here no matter what."

A few minutes later, Udaltsov was shoved into a police vehicle.

There is little question that discontent is rising in Russia, pushed by lingering economic troubles. In a recent poll, the Public Opinion Foundation found that nearly a third of Russians said they were ready to protest against the government. They named their greatest sources of anger as financial problems, rising prices, unemployment and poor performance by government housing and utilities services.

But Saturday's demonstrations seemed to highlight the disarray of the opposition and its multitude of ideas and causes as complaints about local government and the federal government mingled.

Here in the capital, a 74-year-old retiree named Pelageya Matveyeva wandered amid the crowd. "We are sick and tired of this kind of life," she said. "Everybody's complaining about the government because there is so much unemployment. In Soviet times, we didn't have unemployment. We had our two hands, and we could work anywhere."

"For three pennies!" snapped a woman who passed by in a fur hat.

About 1,000 people demonstrated in St. Petersburg holding placards that read "Putin's team must resign!" Police didn't intervene.

An opposition rally in the far eastern port of Vladivostok drew about 1,500 people.

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in the Baltic city of Kaliningrad despite a decision by the opposition leaders to cancel the protest. They chanted "Government should resign!" and called for the ouster of the provincial governor, the Interfax news agency reported. Police did not intervene.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.1

There are no comments - be the first to comment