Russia opposition plans anti-Putin protest over economic woes
Russian opposition leaders including top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Tuesday announced a mass protest in March calling for President Vladimir Putin to step down over his handling of the economic crisis.
"I call all Muscovites and visitors to the capital to come out on the street on March 1 2015 and take part in a peaceful mass demonstration -- an anti-crisis Spring march," Navalny said.
The call came as Russia's government approved part of a $21 billion "crisis plan" to tackle the stalled economy, which is forecast to plunge into deep recession this year, hit by Western sanctions and plunging oil prices.
Standard and Poor's also downgraded Russia's credit rating to junk status on Monday, a move Navalny said "returned the country back to 2005".
"The idea of the march is simple: those working in the Kremlin have screwed up and will keep screwing up. They had 15 years and $3 billion received from the sale of our natural resources," Navalny wrote on his blog.
"After guzzling oil money for many years, the current regime has led the country into a dead-end and is completely bankrupt. Putin and his government cannot bring the country out of crisis and should go," Navalny said.
Navalny said the rally, whose organisers include liberal opposition leaders Boris Nemtsov and Mikhail Kasyanov, would make demands "shared not just by opposition organisations but the majority of citizens."
He said organisers are demanding an end to Russian counter-sanctions banning food imports from Western countries, cuts to defence spending and an end to hostilities in Ukraine.
The rally will be a key test as to whether the opposition can now channel public anger over the economy against Putin after a wave of protests against his return to the Kremlin lost momentum.
At the Davos forum last week, first deputy prime minister Igor Shuvalov said that the Russian mentality meant that people would overcome any economic hardship and even cut down on food but would not abandon Putin.
Navalny remains under house arrest until February 14 and is serving a suspended sentence for embezzlement from French cosmetic company Yves Rocher.
While he was the star speaker at rallies in 2011-12, it is unclear if Navalny's enforced low profile has affected his popularity.
© 2015 AFP