Mass protests possible across Russia: Gorbachev

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Former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev has warned of mass protests in Russia provoked by the authorities' indifference to people's problems and corruption, media reported Wednesday

"Extreme patience of our people, coupled with indifference of the authorities, could end in terrible protest outbreaks. And complete chaos may follow," the 79-year-old former leader told Snob magazine in an interview published in its October issue.

Daily Vedomosti contrasted Gorbachev's predictions with comments by top Kremlin ideologue Vladislav Surkov, saying the positions represented two polar opposite extremes.

Surkov over the weekend disparagingly referred to "200 people" wanting to gather in Moscow "in such small numbers in a city of millions of residents."

The Soviet leader has regularly criticized the Kremlin for failing to follow through on the needed reforms which he kickstarted in the perestroika years after becoming general secretary of the Communist Party in March 1985.

But his comments came amid growing questions in Russia over whether a genuine protest mood exists a decade into the strongman rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and as the country emerges from economic crisis.

"At the moment when people finally realize that their opinion is not considered, they take to the streets," Gorbachev said, saying that many current laws had been passed and decisions taken without asking people's opinions.

"The most dangerous thing is the tension that accumulates in society, and can at some moment lash out with such force, that we are all in for trouble," he said.

Surkov, by contrast, had dismissed some Moscow protests as a "burlesque" aimed at creating "paper heroes" and said the govermment was completely relaxed about protest actions.

"The state of public opinion lies somewhere between Surkov and Gorbachev," Vedomosti said. "And neither they nor the country's best sociologists will tell you if the situation will explode and if it does, when."

Gorbachev won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990 for his efforts to bring about a peaceful end to the Cold War, and he continues to be admired in the West.

But he remains widely disliked in Russia today for his role in bringing about the fall of the Soviet Union and for reforms such as a notorious anti-alcohol campaign.

© 2010 AFP

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