Russia's regions 'wake up' in nationwide protest

10th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russia's national protests Saturday saw thousands of activists of various stripes unite from the Pacific coast across Siberia and the Urals to voice distrust in the ruling party and its victory in polls.

The protests kicked off in the Pacific port of Vladivostok, which saw one of the lowest votes for the ruling United Russia party, and spread into Siberia and the central Ural Mountains, taking place in dozens of cities.

Largely organised through social networking websites, the rallies crossed regional borders to spread across thousands of kilometres, drawing supporters of Communists, the liberal Yabloko and broad opposition movement Solidarity.

"It's the first time that there has been such a mass protest about an election problem that's shared by the whole country," said rights activist Lev Ponomaryov, a Solidarity leader.

"The fact that the people have woken up is an entirely new factor."

"For the first time in a long time, people feel that they are likeminded, brothers-in-arms doing something good and important," activist Konstantin Baranovsky told AFP after a rally in industrial Nizhny Novgorod.

The protests united opposition parties and movements under slogans calling for fair elections and an end to the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party.

Russia's most popular social networking site, Vkontakte, brought people together to organise protests in 69 different towns and cities, and an umbrella group "Against United Russia" gathered more than 46,000 members.

In Vladivostok, which is eight time zones ahead of Moscow, around 500 people gathered besides the harbour for a rally dominated by Communists and local group Tiger that lobbies for the region's vital car import business.

At a tense protest in Khabarovsk, north of Vladivostok, Communist activists taped up their mouths and shouted slogans such as "Unfair elections" and "Down with United Russia," local Communist chief Valentin Parchensky said.

Around 50 were detained at the unsanctioned rally on the central Lenin Square next to the city administration's offices, Parchensky said.

Police filled two buses with protesters, Kommersant FM radio station reported, with not all the detainees able to fit into the cells of the city's main police station.

Detentions also came in Kazan, the capital of the relatively prosperous Muslim region of Tatarstan, where around 20 people were arrested by riot police after around 600 gathered for another unsanctioned protest, said opposition activist Ramil Khairullin.

"Eighty percent of the protesters are young people. They have a very strong fighting spirit. And you can see that the detentions don't scare them in the slightest."

Some of the largest rallies took place in Siberian and Urals cities that rarely feature on national news.

In Siberia's Krasnoyarsk, around 3,500 people gathered in the main square, said activist Yevgeny Baburin of the Solidarity movement, despite the authorities playing loud music in an attempt to drown out the speakers.

In Chelyabinsk in the Urals district, around 5,000 people turned up for a two-hour rally in temperatures of minus 20 degrees, said Solidarity activist Valeriya Prikhodkina.

And in another Urals city, Yekaterinburg, up to 4,000 people attended, said Solidarity activist Larisa Buzunova.

"People are in a great mood. They have come to support each other."

© 2011 AFP

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