Russian opposition remembers violent anti-Putin protest

6th May 2013, Comments 0 comments

Scores of Russians led by opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny were expected Monday to take to the streets to mark the first anniversary of a major protest that led to mass arrests and the onset of Vladimir Putin's crackdown on the protest movement.

The rally marks the chaotic May 6, 2012, protest on the eve of Putin's inauguration for a historic third presidential term that resulted in more than 400 arrests after scuffles with riot police.

The opposition also hopes the rally will breathe new life into the sputtering protest movement following what observers say is the toughest crackdown on dissenters of Putin's 13 years in power.

More than two dozen people now face jail over their involvement in last year's rally, which like Monday's protest took place at Bolotnaya Square just over the Moscow river from the Kremlin walls.

One activist was already jailed for four and a half years for purportedly using violence in the 2012 rally, while another was sentenced for two-and-a-half years.

Anti-corruption crusader Navalny, who faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of embezzling half a million dollars in a timber deal, said Russians should not remain indifferent to their plight as well as the future of the country.

"Life is always about the struggle of good and evil," Navalny, the most charismatic of the opposition's leading figures, wrote in a blog post, adding: "And about the imminent victory of good in the end."

Pro-opposition writer Boris Akunin, one of Russia's most beloved novelists, said the new rally at Bolotnaya Square was the "last chance" for Russians to show the Kremlin they did not agree with its policies.

"If few people people come to Bolotnaya on May 6, then the regime will see it as carte blanche from society: 'Put in prison whoever you want, we are not against it'," he wrote in his blog.

The organisers got the green light from the authorities to gather up to 30,000 for a rally from 1500 GMT to 1730 GMT.

Prosecutors warned the opposition against any provocations including any attempts to hold a march through the city in addition to the rally, while police said it would deploy 5,000 personnel to oversee the event.

A worker was earlier in the day crushed to death by acoustic equipment as he was helping to erect the stage for the rally, sparking fears that the authorities may use the tragedy to ban the event.

"This situation for us is absolutely unexpected and tragic," one of the organisers, Alexander Ryklin, said on Echo of Moscow radio.

Opposition activists however said that the rally would go ahead as planned.

The US embassy in Moscow called on US nationals to stay away from the protest, saying: "The potential for confrontation cannot be ruled out."

Around 1,000 people marked the anniversary of last year's protest with a smaller rally on Sunday.

Putin spent the last year reasserting his authority through tough legislation which requires NGOs receiving foreign aid to register as "foreign agents," expands the definition of treason and introduces steep fines for misdemeanours at rallies.

Also Monday, the justice ministry said it was putting on ice the registration of several political parties including the Popular Alliance, a liberal party backed by Navalny.

© 2013 AFP

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