Russian opposition stages rare authorised protest

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Russian opposition activists gathered in Moscow on Saturday for a rare authorised protest, calling for direct election of regional leaders and to replace embattled Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

The future of Luzhkov, who has run the Moscow region for nearly two decades, is in the balance after months of intense pressure, particularly for his handling of the smog from wildfires during the summer heatwave that plagued the Russian capital.

Several hundred opposition activists gathered at Bolotnaya Square near the Kremlin holding banners such as "Free election for a new mayor" and "No to censorship".

Very few protests in Russia receive government approval, and they are usually crudely broken up by police.

"Luzhkov should have been sacked a long time ago because he is a crook like two-thirds of the governors. But one thief shouldn't be replaced by another, we need a mechanism to control power," said Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former independent parliamentarian.

The direct election of governors was cancelled in 2004 by then president Vladimir Putin, following the bloody Beslan school siege, on the grounds of improving local administration and combatting terrorism.

Protestors also used the demonstration to air their grievances against Russian authorities, particularly Putin, who is now prime minister.

"They've stiffled independent media, there is only one view point and you see more of Putin on the TV than you did Brezhnev," said Vladimir Milov, the former deputy energy minister, referring to former Soviet leader Leonid Brezhnev.

Milov added that Luzhkov would be relieved of his duties on Monday, without specifying the source of that information.

© 2010 AFP

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