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Archive for the ‘Injustice of Russia’ Category

Russian election chief defends ban on Moscow candidates

August 29, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — The head of Russia’s election commission is standing by a decision to keep a dozen independent candidates from running for the city legislature in Moscow, but concedes after weeks of protests drew unusually large crowds, thousands of arrests and unfavorable attention that the qualification rules are outdated.

The Central Election Commission said earlier this month that 13 opposition candidates failed to gather enough valid signatures to appear on the ballot next month. Many outraged Muscovites saw the candidates’ disqualification as a sign of how determined the Kremlin was to prevent President Vladimir Putin’s opponents from gaining even lowly positions of power.

The commission’s chief, Ella Pamfilova, insisted in an interview with The Associated Press this week that there was nothing she could do to stop what blew up into a major political crisis. Pamfilova argued that domestic Russian politics are outside her competence.

“As an individual, as a citizen I really wanted to allow the widest competition possible so that everyone gets registered,” Pamfilova, who was a veteran opposition politician herself when she took the post in 2016, said. “The law that is in place — we have to stick to it to the letter, unfortunately.”

She also noted that several candidates were reinstated upon appeal and that competition for the City Duma — about five candidates per seat — is high. In Moscow, independent Duma candidates are required to submit the signatures equivalent to 3% of their districts’ voters to appear on the ballot, a prerequisite that independent election observers have said is designed to keep opposition candidates out of office.

The candidates excluded from the Sept. 8 election said they had presented the required number of signatures, but first Moscow election authorities and then Pamfilova’s commission invalidated enough due to a variety of flaws to prevent their participation.

The violations included minor clerical mistakes or erroneous personal data that was entered by election officials. Pamfilova insisted that these mistakes were serious enough for disqualification. Hundreds of voters including celebrities spoke out after their signatures were dismissed as suspected forgeries. The most vocal government opponents were not only barred from running but ended up in jail for weeks for calling for the unsanctioned protests.

A trained engineer, Pamfilova entered politics at the age of 36 when she won a seat at the Soviet Supreme Council in 1989 in what was regarded as the Soviet Union’s first free election in decades. She served as social welfare minister in Russia’s first-post Soviet government for three years, and was a vocal opponent of the federal government’s brutal military campaign in Chechnya. She made multiple trips to the region, negotiating the release of Russian troops captured by Chechen separatists.

Pamfilova’s appointment was expected to end brazen corruption in Russia’s elections. Putin had vowed to clean up election commissions that for years had ignored or directly participated in vote-rigging to favor Kremlin candidates at all levels.

Although Russian election observers initially hailed Pamfilova’s efforts to clamp down on the most blatant voter fraud, this summer’s Moscow City Duma campaign brought about questions of whether she has the power to overhaul the entire system.

Pamfilova, 65, who is proud of her democratic credentials and a track record of defending Kremlin opponents, said the commission looked into the forgery claims and reversed course on hundreds of signatures but it didn’t change the outcome for any candidates: they still had too few valid signatures.

Although standing firm on the decision to disqualify the candidates, Pamfilova said this summer’s election campaign has highlighted the flaws in the federal and local election legislation. “The good thing about what happened – it has showed that the system is outdated, that society is not going to forgive us for this,” she said, adding that her commission will come up with amendments to streamline the signature collection for candidates and cut down the number of signatures required.

When asked if candidates like Lyubov Sobol, who was on hunger strike in protest for a month, would have been on the ballot under the new, simplified rules, Pamfilova was adamant that Sobol and other candidates had made too many mistakes in their filings. She recalled her own political career — Pamfilova ran as an independent candidate for Russian president in 2000 when Putin was first elected — and said the opposition should toughen up and comply with the laws the way they are.

Authorities initially refused to issue permits for opposition-led protest rallies that started in July after the commission’s decision. Riot police were deployed to the protests and on July 27 beat up and brutally detained hundreds of people who offered no resistance. In an apparent attempt to ward off more protests, authorities arrested 14 people and charged them with rioting even though the July 27 rally did not see any property damage or major violence.

Three of the detained men had collected signatures for opposition candidates. Like the others they now face up to eight years in prison if convicted. Pamfilova said she wasn’t familiar with the circumstances of the case but said she wished the three arrested activists had spoken to her beforehand to find out what was wrong with signatures they collected instead of attending the unsanctioned protest.

Pamfilova accused several candidates, including Sobol, of manipulating their supporters but conceded that the anger and frustration expressed in Moscow in the past six weeks were genuine. “People are asking for more,” she said. “It’s a young, well-off generation that grew up under Putin, and we have to be mindful of that, and we have to understand that this generation… they need find their place here, in Russia. They need social mobility.”

Sobol rejected Pamfilova’s claim in Tuesday’s interview with the AP that she had spearheaded the July protests because she could not collect enough signatures, and dismissed the Central Election Commission chief as a “talking head” toeing the Kremlin line.

Pamfilova insisted that even putting the signatures aside there was a major flaw in Sobol’s application: she did not fill in a form listing the candidate’s foreign property. Sobol told the AP that she left it blank because she has no foreign property and quoted a presidential decree to prove her point.

Sobol and her allies have called on Muscovites to come out for another protest rally on Saturday after authorities turned down the opposition’s multiple requests for an authorized gathering. “We did all we could to get the approval,” Sobol said. “They are taking away from people the right to gather peacefully, unarmed, in a protest to defend their voting rights.”

Nearly 1,400 detained in Moscow protest; largest in decade

July 28, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Nearly 1,400 people were detained in a violent police crackdown on an opposition protest in Moscow, a Russian monitoring group said Sunday, adding that was the largest number of detentions at a rally in the Russian capital this decade.

OVD-Info, which has monitored police arrests since 2011, said the number of the detentions from Saturday’s protest reached 1,373 by early Sunday. The overwhelming majority of people were soon released but 150 remained in custody, OVD-Info and a lawyers’ legal aid group said Sunday.

Crackdowns on the anti-government protesters began days before the rally. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested and sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling for Saturday’s protest against election authorities who barred some opposition candidates from running in the Sept. 8 vote for Moscow city council.

Navalny was unexpectedly hospitalized Sunday with a severe allergy attack, his spokeswoman said. Kira Yarmysh said Navalny, who did not have any allergies beforehand, was taken from the Moscow jail to a hospital in the morning, arriving with severe facial swelling and red rashes. Hours later, she said Navalny was in a “satisfactory condition.”

Russian police violently dispersed thousands of people who thronged the streets of Moscow on Saturday to protest the move by election authorities. Several protesters reported broken limbs and head injuries. Police justified their response by saying that the rally was not sanctioned by authorities.

Along with the arrests of the mostly young demonstrators, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the Moscow City Duma were arrested throughout the city. Police eventually cordoned off the City Hall and dispersed protesters from the area, but thousands of demonstrators reassembled in several different locations nearby and a new round of arrests began. Russian police beat some protesters to the ground with wide truncheon swings while others tried to push the police away.

Police said the protesters numbered about 3,500 but aerial footage from several locations suggested at least 8,000 people turned out. Dmitry Gudkov, an opposition figure who was barred from running for city council office in Moscow, was detained Sunday afternoon as he delivered food to some of the Moscow protesters still in jail.

The U.S. Embassy in Moscow on Sunday decried the violent crackdown as “use of disproportionate police force” and the Russian presidential human rights council said it was concerned about the police brutality.

Russian President Vladimir Putin stayed away from Moscow over the weekend. On Sunday, he led Russia’s first major naval parade in years, going aboard one of the vessels in the Navy Day parade in St. Petersburg, on the Gulf of Finland. The parade included 43 ships and submarines and 4,000 troops.

Russian police crack down hard on Moscow election protest

July 27, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police cracked down hard Saturday on demonstrators in central Moscow, beating some people and arresting hundreds of others protesting the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for Moscow city council. Police also stormed into a TV station broadcasting the protest.

Police wrestled with protesters around the mayor’s office, sometimes charging into the crowd with their batons raised. OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political arrests in Russia, said 638 people were detained. Moscow police earlier said 295 people had been taken in, but did not immediately give a final figure.

Along with the arrests, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the council were arrested throughout the city before the protest. Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling for the unauthorized gathering Saturday in the heart of the Russian capital.

The protesters, who police said numbered about 3,500, shouted slogans including “Russia will be free!” and “Who are you beating?” One young woman was seen bleeding heavily after being struck on the head.

Helmeted police barged into Navalny’s video studio as it was conducting a YouTube broadcast of the protest and arrested program leader Vladimir Milonov. Police also searched Dozhd, an internet TV station that was covering the protest, and its editor in chief Alexandra Perepelova was ordered to undergo questioning at the Investigative Committee.

Before the protest, several opposition members were detained, including Ilya Yashin, Dmitry Gudkov and top Navalny associate Ivan Zhdanov. There was no immediate information on what charges the detainees might face.

Once a local, low-key affair, the September vote for Moscow’s city council has shaken up Russia’s political scene as the Kremlin struggles with how to deal with strongly opposing views in its sprawling capital of 12.6 million.

The decision by electoral authorities to bar some opposition candidates from running for having allegedly insufficient signatures on their nominating petitions had already sparked several days of demonstrations even before Saturday’s clashes in Moscow.

The city council, which has 45 seats, is responsible for a large municipal budget and is now controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its seats, which have a five-year-term, are up for grabs in the Sept. 8 vote.

Barring of Moscow council candidates draws 12,000 to protest

July 20, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — About 12,000 people have turned out to protest the Moscow election commission’s decision to reject several opposition figures as candidates in the Russian capital’s city council election.

The commission last week rejected signatures the candidates gathered to get on the fall ballot. Demonstrator Maria Semyonova said at Saturday’s rally: “They are making North Korea of our country, depriving us of freedom and rights.”

Alexi Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, told the crowd that if the barred candidates were not allowed to register by next Saturday, he would call for protests at the office of Moscow’s mayor and “we won’t leave.”

Moscow police said the protest was sanctioned and no arrests were reported.

Russia seeks to cement its role as power broker in Syria

October 16, 2019

CEYLANPINAR, Turkey (AP) — Russia moved to fill the void left by the United States in northern Syria on Tuesday, deploying troops to keep apart advancing Syrian government forces and Turkish troops. At the same time, tensions grew within NATO as Turkey defied growing condemnation of its invasion from its Western allies.

Now in its seventh day, Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish fighters has caused tens of thousands to flee their homes, has upended alliances and is re-drawing the map of northern Syria for yet another time in the 8-year-old war.

Russia moved quickly to further entrench its role as a power broker after U.S. President Donald Trump ordered the pullout of American forces in northeastern Syria. The American move effectively abandoned the Kurdish fighters who were allied with the U.S. and cleared the way for Turkey’s invasion aimed at crushing them.

Desperate for a new protector, the Kurdish administration struck a deal with the Russia-backed government of Syrian President Bashar Assad, whose forces on Sunday began moving into Kurdish-administered areas to shield them against Turkey.

Syrian troops waved flags after they rolled into Manbij, a flashpoint town west of the Euphrates River that Turkey had been aiming to capture and wrest from Kurdish control. Video by Russian journalists with the troops showed what appeared to be an abandoned outpost where U.S. forces had been stationed.

A U.S. military spokesman, Col. Myles B. Caggins, confirmed U.S. troops had completed their pullout from Manbij. During the withdrawal, contacts were kept open with the Turks and Russians to ensure the several hundred American forces there got out safely, U.S. officials said.

U.S. troops have had outposts in Manbij since 2017, when they went in to avert a battle over the town between Turkish and Kurdish fighters. Now Russia was playing that role. Outside Manbij, Russian troops patrolled front lines between Turkish and Syrian army positions to keep them apart, Russia’s Defense Ministry said.

“No one is interested” in fighting between Syrian government troops and Turkish forces, said Alexander Lavrentyev, Moscow’s envoy for Syria. Russia “is not going to allow it,” he told Russian state news agencies.

Kelly Craft, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, told reporters Washington is “deeply concerned” that Russian troops are patrolling between the two sides. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu spoke to U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper to discuss “issues of mutual interest in the context of situation in Syria,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a brief statement, without elaborating.

Russia has been a staunch ally of Assad for decades and entered the Syrian conflict in 2015, providing air power that eventually turned the tide of the war in his favor. The Russian military has shipped weapons to Damascus, trained thousands of troops and put its advisers in key Syrian military units.

In the first week of the Turkish assault, at least 154 fighters from the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been killed, as well as 128 fighters from Turkish-backed Syrian factions , according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitor of the war. It said at least 69 civilians have been killed in Syria. Turkey says six of its soldiers have died, as well as at least 20 Turkish civilians killed by Kurdish mortar fire across the border.

Despite the Syrian and Russian deployments, Turkey insisted it would capture Manbij. Asked on Sky News if Turkey’s military was willing to fight Assad’s army, Vice President Fuat Oktay said, “We hope it’s not going to happen, but again we are determined to get control over Manbij.”

Mortar fire from Manbij killed two Turkish soldiers and wounded seven others, the Turkish Defense Ministry said. An Associated Press team later saw up to 200 Turkish troops along with armored vehicles crossing near Manbij and Kobani, a border town that is not yet secured by Syrian forces. Farther east on the border, Turkish and Kurdish forces were in heavy battles over the town of Ras al-Ayn, captured by Turkish troops days earlier.

A U.S. official said the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops being withdrawn from northern Syria will reposition in Iraq, Kuwait and possibly Jordan. The U.S. forces in Iraq could conduct cross-border operations against the Islamic State group in Syria as they did before creating the now-abandoned partnership with Syrian Kurdish-led forces, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive planning for a U.S. pullout.

After opening the way for the Turkish assault with its pullout, Washington is now trying to restrain its fellow NATO member. Trump on Monday announced sanctions aimed at Turkey’s economy. The U.S. called on Turkey to stop the offensive and declare a cease-fire, while European Union countries moved to broaden an arms sale embargo against their easternmost ally.

Trump was sending Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien to Ankara to try to begin negotiations to stop the fighting. Pence said Trump spoke directly to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who promised not to attack the border town of Kobani, which in 2015 saw the Islamic State group’s first defeat in a battle by the U.S.-backed Kurdish fighters.

Erdogan made clear, however, that he had no intention of halting the Turkish offensive. “They say ‘declare a ceasefire.’ We could never declare a ceasefire,” he told reporters. The U.N. Security Council planned a closed meeting Wednesday on the situation, requested by Germany and other EU members. “Everybody hopes that … we can do something to bring back the parties to the peace process,” said the current Security Council president, South Africa’s U.N. Ambassador Jerry Matjila.

NATO ambassadors also will meet on Wednesday in Brussels on Turkey’s offensive, said alliance Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. Erdogan defended Turkey’s offensive in a column in the Wall Street Journal, urging the international community to support Ankara’s effort to create what it calls a resettlement “safe zone” for refugees in northeastern Syria, or “begin admitting refugees.”

“Turkey reached its limit,” Erdogan wrote of the 3.6 million Syrians in his country. He said Turkey’s warnings it would be unable to stop refugee floods into the West without international support “fell on deaf ears.”

Turkey said it invaded northern Syria to create a zone of control the entire length of the border and drive out the Kurdish fighters, which it regards as terrorists because of their links to Kurdish insurgents in Turkey.

Instead, after the Kurds’ deal with Damascus, a new de facto carving up of the border appeared to be taking shape. Turkish forces control the beginnings of a truncated zone roughly in the center of the border about 100 kilometers (60 miles) long between the towns of Tel Abyad and Ras al-Ain.

Syrian government troops were moving into or increasing their presence in areas on either side of that enclave, including Manbij to the west and the cities of Qamishli and Hassakeh in the far northeastern corner of Syria.

Though they gain protection from the Turks by the deal with Damascus, the Kurds risk losing the virtual self-rule they have enjoyed across the northeast — the heartland of their minority community — ever since Assad pulled his troops from the area seven years ago to fight rebels elsewhere.

The U.N. humanitarian aid coordinator said at least 160,000 civilians in northeastern Syria have been displaced amid the Turkish operations.

Mroue reported from Beirut. Associated Press writers Nataliya Vasilyeva in Moscow, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.

About 20,000 rally in Moscow to demand protesters’ release

September 29, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — About 20,000 people rallied in Moscow on Sunday to demand the release of those who were arrested during a wave of opposition demonstrations this summer. Those at the rally in downtown Moscow, which was sanctioned by Russian authorities, chanted “Free them all!”

Protests erupted in Moscow in July after officials refused to allow a dozen independent and opposition candidates to run for the Moscow city legislature in the Sept. 8 vote. Rallies drew crowds of up to 60,000 at a time, the largest show of discontent against President Vladimir Putin’s rule in seven years.

Russian police violently dispersed some of the election protests that weren’t sanctioned, detaining a total of more than 2,400 people. Most were quickly released, but more than a dozen were put into custody on charges of involvement in riots.

Amid the public outrage, the authorities dropped charges against some of the protesters, but several people have been sentenced to prison terms of up to four years and a few others are in still custody or under house arrest awaiting court verdicts.

“Let’s be confident of our power. If we come out in force, we will win their release,” Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin’s most visible foe, said at the rally. Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny associate and one of the opposition candidates denied registration who spearheaded the summer protests, vowed to maintain the pressure on the Kremlin.

“We have shown them that we are strong and will keep defending our rights,” she said.

Russian opposition figure re-arrested upon release

August 28, 2019

MOSCOW (AP) — A prominent Russian opposition figure has been detained by police for the fifth consecutive time after he served four sentences in jail connected to protests in Moscow. Ilya Yashin was initially jailed for 10 days in July for taking part in an unsanctioned rally but was detained upon his release three times after that and sentenced to 10 days each time for calling for more protests. The Moscow municipal deputy was detained again as he was walking out of the detention facility on Wednesday afternoon. He hasn’t had a court hearing yet.

The 36-year-old Yashin is one of the nearly two dozen independent politicians who were denied a place on the Sept. 8 ballot for Moscow’s city council legislature. Their exclusion has sparked a series of protests in Moscow.

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