Russia's opposition slams 'smears' ahead of protest

20th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

Russian opposition activists Tuesday complained of a smear campaign after a pro-Kremlin website published recordings of their phone calls ahead of a mass protest rally planned in Moscow this week.

The sensationalist website Life News late Monday posted nine recordings of phone calls by opposition leader and former cabinet minister Boris Nemtsov, in which he can be heard badmouthing fellow activists, using obscenities.

Nemtsov, 52, can be heard saying that another activist, environmentalist campaigner Yevgenia Chirikova is "just a bitch, or else an idiot," after the two disagreed over the venue for a protest.

He also describes gossip columnist Bozhena Rynska, who was detained at a recent rally, as "a complete bitch" and can be heard deriding prominent rights activist Lev Ponomaryov.

The release of the recordings comes as a coalition of opposition activists is trying to drum up support for a new rally to protest the victory of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party in elections earlier this month that they claim were fixed.

More than 50,000 people gathered in a park opposite the Kremlin for a sanctioned protest on December 10.

Putin, the former KGB agent who plans to reclaim his old Kremlin job in March presidential polls, has repeatedly slammed the opposition leaders, claiming they were in the pay of the US State Department.

"The aim of this provocation is obvious," Nemtsov said on Dozhd television channel. "It is not to allow a mass rally on December 24 ... and the second aim is to introduce a split in the ranks of the opposition."

Nemtsov, a one-time favourite of ex-president Boris Yeltsin and once voted Russia's sexiest politician, apologised to Chirikova and Rynska on his blog, and sat side-by-side with Chirikova in the studio.

Chirikova came out in support of Nemtsov, calling the publication "absolutely vile and despicable" and accusing the ruling United Russia party of involvement.

"The swindlers and thieves are doing all they can to divert us in our battle with them," she said, using a nickname coined by popular blogger Alexei Navalny for United Russia.

Spokeswoman Olga Shorina told AFP that Nemtsov had listened to the recordings and found that some were edited or had words pieced together.

"On the eve of the protest, the authorities are trying to use any methods to reduce the number of participants, including methods that breach the constitution," said Shorina, who also features on the tapes.

The politician's lawyers are examining the recordings with a view to legal action, she added.

Ashot Gabrelyanov, chief executive officer of News Media which owns LifeNews, said on Twitter he would publish more recordings shortly.

The same Life News website earlier published hacked e-mails from the account of the Golos election monitoring group, which worked to publicise violations ahead of the December 4 parliamentary polls.

Russian opposition figures have been targeted in various ways. Last year, several prominent figures like anti-Kremlin satirist Viktor Shenderovich were lured into a honeytrap by a young woman named Katya, only for sex videos to appear on the Internet.

On Monday, a hacker wiped the blog of acclaimed detective novelist Boris Akunin, who spoke at the December 10 protest, leaving a mocking message saying that now he had something to talk about at rallies.

Satirist Dmitry Bykov said any dissenting Russian now risked having his or her private communications hacked.

"It is quite obvious that anyone who attends rallies and disagrees with the authorities' policies or who is simply not a United Russia member today risks having his or her phone calls published," Bykov wrote in Novaya Gazeta opposition newspaper.

© 2011 AFP

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