Russian opposition sceptical on Kremlin reversal on protests

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Russia's opposition voiced scepticism Monday about an apparent promise from authorities to ease up on restrictions on protests in Moscow now that a new mayor has been named for the Russian capital.

Police have repeatedly broken up protests by the country's liberal opposition in recent months, including a series of demonstrations held on the last day of months with 31 days, in reference to Article 31 in the Russian constitution which permits peaceful demonstrations.

A Kremlin representative indicated in an interview this weekend, however, that the demonstrations might be allowed to go ahead after the firing of former Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov and his replacement with an ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Decisions about whether or not to authorise protests in Moscow are taken by the mayor's office.

"It would be good if the decision is made not to prevent people from gathering, but this is not unequivocal: no decision has for the moment been announced," an opposition leader and former minister, Boris Nemtsov, told AFP.

Lev Ponomarev, the leader of the "For Human Rights" movement, said he suspected the move was a calculated attempt to deflect blame and limit protests.

"In order to stop this movement from growing, they have chosen to profit from the change of power in Moscow and blamed everything on Luzhkov," he said.

"Behind all this is hiding cold calculations: first of all that few people will take part and mainly that if this activity is authorised it will stay as it is," he said.

Kremlin advisor Vyacheslav Surkov indicated to Russian news site Vzgliad ( at the weekend that authorities may ease up on allowing protests.

"If 200 people want to gather precisely on the 31st of the month and precisely in such small numbers in a city of millions of residents, let them gather. I am sure the new mayor of Moscow will make the right decision," he said.

"But the opposition must not get the feeling that everything is permitted. Everything is not permitted," he added.

The Kremlin on Friday nominated Sergei Sobyanin, Putin's chief of staff, to replace Luzhkov as Moscow mayor.

© 2010 AFP

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