Embattled Moscow mayor faces new protest: activists
The long-serving and controversial mayor of Moscow was to face a new protest Sunday after a stinging expose of his rule by a pro-Kremlin television channel raised more questions about his future.
Activists said they would hold the "Day of Anger" protest against Mayor Yury Luzhkov, who has ruled Moscow for the last 18 years, at 1500 GMT opposite City Hall in central Moscow.
The demonstration has not been sanctioned by the authorities and a similar rally last month was effectively blocked by a heavy police presence with members of the security forces vastly outnumbering protestors.
However, official pressure has mounted drastically on Luzhkov, 73, in the last days with the Kremlin showing increasing signs of exasperation with his handling of the August wildfire crisis and the mayor's refusal to step aside.
Meanwhile, the staunchly pro-Kremlin television channel NTV on Friday night hammered Luzhkov in a documentary denouncing his rule, accusing the mayor of mismanagement and corruption.
The expose called "The Affair of the Flat Cap", a reference to the mayor's trademark hat, caricatured Luzhkov as a corrupt bumpkin with more interest in his hobby of beekeeping than running the Russian capital.
Luzhkov had always vehemently denied allegations relating to corruption or the business interests of his wife Elena Baturina, Russia's richest woman.
"The Moscow authorities who do not want to be criticised banned the protest but we will hold it nonetheless," Sergei Udaltsov, one of the organisers and head of the Left Front Movement, told Moscow Echo radio.
"It's very important that citizens can express themselves, especially now when there is criticism of Luzhkov on federal television channels," he added.
But it remains to be seen whether the authorities will now deal more tolerantly with anti-Luzhkov protests.
While President Dmitry Medvedev appears keen on Luzhkov moving aside, it remains to be seen if powerful Prime Minister Vladimir Putin shares his urgency.
Commentator and opposition activist Marina Litvinovich told Moscow Echo radio that Russia's rulers were split on the issue and Luzhkov's exit is the "first act in the drama named 'A Split in the Tandem'."
"Luzhkov is a man who does not give up, a man who claws to power," she said.
© 2010 AFP