Putin opponents mount protests across Russia ahead of March election
Several thousand Russians braved sub-zero temperatures to protest against President Vladimir Putin, who’s seeking to prolong his almost two-decade-long rule in March elections.
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who’s been barred from taking part in the March 18 vote, was dragged roughly by police into a bus shortly after he arrived at the demonstration on Moscow’s central thoroughfare, Tverskaya Street, according to a live video feed from the scene.
Задержание одного человека теряет малейший смысл, если нас много. Кто-нибудь, придите и замените меня pic.twitter.com/TODVdF5lEm— Alexey Navalny (@navalny) January 28, 2018
“I’ve been detained. That doesn’t matter. Come to Tverskaya. You’re not coming out for me, but for yourself and your future,” he wrote on Twitter moments afterward.
He had called on his supporters to rally in more than 100 cities in a bid to put more pressure on the Kremlin after a series of mass protests last year. Police reported protests in more than two dozen cities, according to official media. About 90 people were detained in cities in eastern and central Russia by 2 p.m. Sunday in Moscow, according to OVD-Info, a monitoring group.
Supporters of Alexei Navalny fill Pushkin Square in central Moscow. They're chanting "Putin's a thief!", "Down with the Kremlin!" & "Freedom to Navalny". pic.twitter.com/BtpxJJYrx9— Steve Rosenberg (@BBCSteveR) January 28, 2018
Protesters marched along Moscow’s Tverskaya Street, chanting “Putin leave” and defying cold weather and warnings by police that they could face arrest for participating in an unsanctioned demonstration.
“I don’t see any other way to register my protest,” said Anna Kanunikova, a 32-year-old English translator, who was carrying a Russian flag. “The elections aren’t elections. That’s what we came here to say.”
After authorities refused to register his candidacy in the election, Navalny has called on supporters to boycott the vote.
“It’s absolutely clear that the most important thing that any person can do now is to go and protest,” Navalny, 41, said on his blog ahead of Sunday’s demonstration. “Because that’s the only path open to us in Russia, where we’re kept out of elections and the media and you can’t win in court.”
While Putin, 65, is assured of victory with popularity ratings of more than 80 percent, his most prominent opponent is counting on dissatisfaction at stagnant growth and living standards after the longest recession this century has fueled the protest mood. Since two rallies in March and June 2017 attracted tens of thousands of people in up to 100 cities across Russia, enthusiasm has waned somewhat.
In Yakutsk in Siberia, a handful of supporters braved temperatures of minus 45 Celsius to protest. In Barnaul, where it was minus 24, about 100-150 people turned out for a peaceful protest, Tass quoted local police as saying. Police in Nizhny Novgorod put turnout there at 550, according to the RIA Novosti news agency. Opposition activists have criticized official crowd estimates in the past for understating the numbers.
In Moscow, police detained the head of Navalny’s local campaign staff, his spokeswoman reported on Twitter. Officers also arrived at the offices of his Anti-Corruption Foundation, using power tools to cut through the door where supporters were conducting a live YouTube broadcast, Navalny said on a broadcast from a backup studio later.
In Moscow and the second-largest city, St. Petersburg, officials refused permission for the rallies, and a senior police commander, Alexander Gorovoi, vowed to deal “harshly” with violators of the law. Riot police in were out in force in central Moscow Sunday.
The authorities have waged a crackdown on Navalny, while avoiding making him a martyr by putting him behind bars for more than about a month at a time. Police have raided his campaign offices and jailed activists. Earlier this month, a Moscow court ordered the organization that funds his presidential campaign dissolved.
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