New Russian protest yields smaller turnout
Three thousand protestors gathered in Moscow's Bolotnaya square Saturday for a rally against election violations as Russia's Communist party prepared to nominate its leader to challenge Vladimir Putin in the presidential polls.
The rally, organised by the liberal Yabloko party, which failed to gain seats in the next parliament, was the fourth in a series of protests against what is perceived as a rigged election on December 4.
The rally was nowhere near as big as one a week earlier which drew over 50,000 people to the same square in the largest demonstration of protest in Moscow since the early 1990s.
About 3,000 people gathered at the square, according to an AFP correspondent, while Moscow police estimated the turnout at 1,500.
Yabloko finished in the elections with only 3.3 percent, falling short of the threshold required to win seats in the Russian Duma. Putin's party United Russia won the polls with 49.5 percent, losing its constitutional majority.
People with Yabloko flags and green balloons held signs such as "Boycott the pseudo elections" and listened to Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who is widely expected to become Yabloko's presidential candidate.
"Our goal is to change today's political system, which lies, which is corrupt, and serves the interests of a small group of people," Yavlinsky said.
"People's attitude has changed, they are ready to protest, no matter who wins the elections, one should not take people for idiots," said one of the protestors Igor Sevolodovich referring to massive fraud.
The rally was held against a two-day Communist party congress in Moscow, which is likely to officially nominate its longtime leader Gennady Zyuganov as a candidate in the March presidential polls.
The Communist party, a runner-up in the parliamentary polls with 19.16 percent of the vote, has called the vote illegitimate. However Zyuganov has stayed away from most protest rallies, labelling some of the liberal opposition as provocateurs in the pay of 'American oligarchs'.
The party's nominee is likely to be the main challenger to Vladimir Putin in the march elections, and Putin's latest approval rating of 42 percent suggests that he may not cinch the first round of the vote.
Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have both dismissed allegations of mass violations. Medvedev ordered the Duma to meet in its new makeup next Wednesday, while Putin mocked protestors comparing them with anti-AIDS activists.
A wider citizen protest has been called for on December 24, and over 26,000 people have signed up to attend on Facebook.
© 2011 AFP