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Archive for the ‘Uprising in Russia’ Category

Thousands march in Moscow to protest Crimea vote

March 15, 2014

MOSCOW (AP) — Tens of thousands of anti-government protesters marched in central Moscow Saturday against a Kremlin-backed referendum in Crimea on whether to break away from Ukraine and join Russia.

It was the largest anti-government demonstration since 2012. Demonstrators waved Russian and Ukrainian flags, while opposition activists — including two members of the Pussy Riot punk band — shouted “Say no to war!” and “Putin, go away!” from the stage.

Protesters also held up banners that read: “For your freedom and for ours!” One demonstrator held up a plate of salo — cured pork fat that is a staple of Ukrainian cuisine and adored by many Russians — along with a poster that read: “Make salo, not war!”

Nearby, a rally of several thousand was held close to the Kremlin in support of Russian intervention in Crimea. Crimea’s referendum Sunday has been loudly condemned as illegitimate by much of the international community. As heavily armed forces apparently under Russian command have effectively taken control of the peninsula, the vote to join Russia has been widely criticized as a mere formality.

Russian support for reclaiming Crimea majority has intensified amid weeks of relentless state television coverage of purported aggression toward ethnic Russians by the new Kiev government, which came to power after Ukraine’s Moscow-friendly president, Viktor Yanukovych, fled the country in February.

While President Vladimir Putin’s ratings have risen since he announced Russia’s willingness to use force in Ukraine, the anti-government demonstration Saturday showed that not everyone is happy with the decision.

“I love Ukraine — it’s Putin who needs war and an empire, not me,” said Dmitry Maksimov, a 29-year-old lawyer who held a bouquet of flowers dyed blue and yellow, the colors of the Ukrainian flag. Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, a member of Pussy Riot, called for defiance against the authorities.

“Don’t believe it when they say that we are few, that we are weak. Together we will change this country,” she said in a speech from a stage. None of Russia’s state-owned news channels showed footage from the anti-government protest, and instead showed live video from the rally near the Kremlin, where large gangs of men from a group called “Essence of Time” dressed in uniform red jackets and marched to the sound of Soviet-era military music in disciplined columns.


Thousands protest sentence for Putin critic

Jul. 18, 2013

by Anna Arutunyan

Special for USA TODAY

MOSCOW – Thousands of people protested in the streets Thursday steps away from the Kremlin to express anger over the jailing of an opponent to President Vladimir Putin on what they alleged are false charges to keep him quiet.

Alexei Navalny, a Moscow mayoral candidate who blew the whistle on high-level corruption and mocked the Kremlin, was sentenced to five years in a penal colony on embezzlement charges.

“We were supposed to go to a museum, but the verdict changed that, and now we’re here,” said Anna Abdelkhabi, a mother of three who turned up at the protest with her children. “Of course, it was obvious that [Navalny would be found guilty], but on the other hand, there was this tiny, tiny bit of hope.”

“I expected the verdict,” said Stas Starevsky, an information technology specialist, “but what no one wanted to believe happened.”

The sentence is the latest in a crackdown on dissent that followed Putin’s re-election to a third presidential term in March 2012. The Kremlin has arrested opposition activists and pushed for passage of laws that sharply increased fines for Russians who take part in protests not permitted by the government.

Protesters who found out about the demonstration via Facebook showed up at Manezh Square, just off Red Square, to find the area blocked by police. They gathered on the streets around Manezh Square and near the State Duma, Russia’s lower branch of parliament.

Police moved in to disperse protesters before midnight and detained those who refused to leave. More than 100 people were detained, reported.

A court in Kirov found Navalny and a co-defendant guilty of embezzling $500,000 worth of timber from the state-owned KirovLes company. The embezzlement, which Navalny denied, was alleged to have taken place in 2009 while he was an adviser to the Kirov regional governor.

Navalny handed his mobile phone and watch to his wife, Yulia, before bailiffs took custody of him.

Navalny wrote about corruption at state-owned companies in which he owned shares, and his blog had hundreds of thousands of readers. With the help of volunteer lawyers, he used property records abroad to identify top officials and lawmakers who own undeclared foreign assets and hold foreign citizenship.

Navalny called the dominant United Russia party “the party of crooks and thieves,” and he targeted a wide circle of Putin loyalists, from members of parliament to state bankers. He chronicled all the promises Putin failed to deliver on.

When charges of fraud in the 2011 parliamentary elections led to massive protests, Navalny became a leader of the movement. He announced his candidacy to run for mayor of Moscow in an election in September.

If Navalny’s verdict comes into force before the election date, he will be forced by law to step down from the race. Amnesty International condemned the trial as politically motivated. White House spokesman Jay Carney said the United States was “deeply disappointed” in the verdict.

Others didn’t buy the idea that Navalny was railroaded by Putin-controlled courts.

“He deserved it,” said Tatyana Krainskaya, a Moscow resident. “Whatever he did, that’s what he deserved. He stole the timber, that’s clear.”

Pro-Kremlin analysts and politicians denied that the case was politically motivated.

“The verdict against Navalny is a direct warning to our ‘fifth column,'” Vladimir Zhirinovsky, leader of the nationalist LDPR party, posted on his Twitter. “That’s the path for all who are connected to the West and work against Russia.”

Source: Florida Today.


Thousands of anti-Putin protesters march in Moscow

February 02, 2014

MOSCOW (AP) — Several thousand protesters marched through central Moscow on Sunday to call for the release of 20 people who were arrested after clashes between police and demonstrators in May 2012.

Some of them face up to 10 years in prison if convicted for the protest, held on Bolotnaya Square on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration to a third term as Russia’s president. Putin’s return to the presidency saw the passing of new laws aimed at cracking down on anti-government protests and restricting non-governmental organizations.

The protesters marched Sunday with portraits of the jailed protesters and a banner stretching across the street reading: “Freedom to the Bolotnaya heroes, the hostages of Putin.” Some also carried Ukrainian flags to show their support for the anti-government protesters in neighboring Ukraine, where demonstrations have been going on for more than two months.

Of the 28 people rounded up in the Bolotnaya case, eight were recently freed on amnesty. Several defendants have been under house arrest, but most of the others have been in jail for more than a year and a half.

Only three of the cases have been decided: Two defendants received light sentences after cooperating with investigators and a third was sent for forced psychiatric treatment. That man, Mikhail Kosenko, who was convicted of beating a policeman, had a history of schizophrenia, but rights activists charged the court was reviving the Soviet-era practice of using punitive psychiatry against dissidents.

Thousands of anti-Putin protesters march in Moscow

June 12, 2013

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of Russian opposition activists marched through Moscow on Wednesday, decrying President Vladimir Putin’s authoritarian rule and calling for the release of people they consider political prisoners.

The march on Russia Day, a national holiday, was to show support for 27 people arrested after a protest turned violent on the eve of Putin’s inauguration more than a year ago. Sixteen of the defendants have remained in jail pending trial on charges that could send them to prison for up to 10 years.

The arrests, especially those of ordinary Russians who had joined the anti-Putin rallies for the first time and who in some cases seemed to have been grabbed at random, appeared to have been part of Kremlin efforts to deter people from joining any future protests.

The estimated 10,000 to 15,000 protesters who turned out Wednesday were far fewer than the 100,000 or more who rallied against Putin before his election to a third term, reflecting a wariness that has taken the steam out of the protest movement. But the turnout was still higher than many had expected.

“You can’t sit at home when the government begins repressions against ordinary, decent citizens of our country — people who don’t want to live in this swamp, people who want to see their country thrive,” civil activist Vitaly Zolomov said. “And I believe, and this is something I tell everyone, that it’s criminal to stay on the sidelines in Russia when lawlessness has become the norm.”

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny and his wife led the marchers behind a banner saying: “Freedom to the May 6 prisoners. For your freedom and ours.” Navalny, who first made his name as an anti-corruption campaigner, is on trial in a separate case in which he is accused of embezzlement while serving as an adviser to a provincial governor. He claims the charges are punishment for his exposure of high-level corruption and campaign against Putin and his party.

If found guilty, the inspirational protest leader could be sent to prison for up to 10 years. Speaking at a Kremlin reception for Russia Day, Putin said the Russian people had gone through difficult years after the 1991 Soviet collapse, but had succeeded in putting the country “on a firm path of development that is inseparable from such understandings as democracy, respect for human rights and the rule of law,” the state ITAR-Tass news agency reported.

Putin ended his speech with a toast “to a free and prosperous Russia.” Gay rights activists carrying rainbow flags were among the marchers Wednesday. Under a bill passed by the lower house of Russia’s parliament Tuesday but not yet signed into law, it will be a crime in Russia to hold gay pride rallies or provide information on homosexuality to children. Russian and international rights activists condemned the bill as a violation of basic rights.

Shortly before the march began, police detained nine members of the Left Front, whose leader is under house arrest.

AP writer Laura Mills contributed to this report.

Jailed protesters cast shadow on anti-Putin rally

May 07, 2013

MOSCOW (AP) — About 20,000 protesters thronged Bolotnaya Square across from the Kremlin on Monday, a year after a protest at the same spot turned violent on the eve of President Vladimir Putin’s inauguration.

Monday’s turnout — far less than the 100,000 or more who marched through Moscow with giddy optimism ahead of Putin’s election to a third term — reflected a wariness that has sapped energy from the protest movement.

As a result of last year’s protest, 27 people face charges that could send them to prison for up to 10 years. Some are battle-hardened opposition activists, but just as many are ordinary Russians who had joined anti-Putin protests for the first time last year.

Portraits of the prisoners and officials involved in the case lined the stage Monday, while several speakers read letters that the defendants sent from jail. Here is a look at some of the people involved:

ALEXANDRA DUKHANINA The youngest of the defendants at 19, environmental activist Dukhanina has spent the past year under house arrest, allowed visits only from her lawyers and close relatives. Investigators have charged her with throwing rocks and bottles at riot police, although they later found that the policeman listed as the victim in the case was unharmed. She faces up to eight years in prison.

DENIS LUTSKEVICH A first-year student and former marine, 21-year-old Lutskevich was attending his first protest. When riot police seized a female friend of his, Lutskevich said he tried to help her. He was beaten so severely that his body was still covered in red welts when he appeared in court. Investigators accused him of throwing pieces of asphalt at police and ripping off one of their helmets. He has been in jail since June and faces up to eight years in prison.

VLADIMIR AKIMENKOV Arrested at the protest in a black suit jacket and tie, leftist activist Akimenkov, 25, is accused of trying to break through a police barrier and hide in the crowd. While behind bars, a serious eye condition he suffers from has significantly worsened to the point that he is almost blind. Despite notes from doctors that he should not be held in jail, Akimenkov has been denied bail. He faces up to eight years in prison.

OLEG ARKHIPENKOV The commercial director of a tourism firm whose only activism had been to help stray animals, Arkhipenkov was detained while walking out of a metro station near the protest. Despite having had no plans to take part in the protest, Arkhipenkov was held in prison for two months, where his lawyer said he was forcibly injected with unspecified psychiatric medication. He was later released on bail and faces up to eight years in prison.

MAXIM LUZYANIN A gym owner and bodybuilder who has never been part of any political movement, Luzyanin was subdued with a stun gun, arrested and held incommunicado for two days after investigators found photographs of a masked man with Luzyanin’s rippling physique fighting policemen. Luzyanin, 36, entered a guilty plea and paid the dental bill of the policeman whose tooth he was accused of chipping. He was sentenced to four and a half years in prison.

KONSTANTIN LEBEDEV Lebedev was arrested in October after state-controlled television ran a documentary-style film purporting that he and two other activists, including leftist protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, had met with Georgian officials to organize terrorist attacks and the violent overthrow of the government with money from rogue oligarchs in London.

Lebedev initially denied the accusations, but pleaded guilty earlier this year, testified against the two other activists, and was sentenced to two and a half years in prison. Former associates have accused him of serving as a stooge to undermine the protest movement. Udaltsov, who remains under house arrest, faces up to 10 years in prison.

About 25 arrested in Moscow New Year’s Eve protest

December 31, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) — About 25 people reportedly have been arrested in Moscow on New Year’s Eve for trying to hold an unsanctioned protest.

The gathering at Triumphalnaya Square in central Moscow on Monday attracted 50 to 100 people. Among those arrested was prominent radical writer Eduard Limonov; the Interfax news agency cited activists as saying about 25 people were taken into custody.

For about two years, activists have tried to rally on the 31st of each month with that many days, a reference to Article 31 of the Russian constitution that guarantees free assembly. Authorities routinely deny permission for the demonstrations. Limonov’s faction has fallen out with other elements of the wave of opposition to President Vladimir Putin that arose last year.

In his New Year’s Eve address, Putin made no reference to the protests of the past year, saying only of 2012 that “it was very important to us,” according to the ITAR-Tass news agency. “We believe that we can change the life around us and become better ourselves, that we can become more heedful, compassionate, gracious” he was quoted as saying. Russia’s fate “depends on our enthusiasm and labor.”

Unauthorized anti-Putin rally draws thousands

December 15, 2012

MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of opposition supporters gathered Saturday outside the old KGB headquarters in central Moscow to mark a year of mass protests against Vladimir Putin and his government.

The turnout was far smaller than the tens of thousands who filled Moscow streets in protests that erupted after fraud-plagued parliamentary elections last December. But unlike most of those protests, Saturday’s gathering was not authorized and those who came risked arrest and heavy fines.

Soon after Putin returned to the presidency in May, Russia passed a law raising the fine for participating in unauthorized rallies to the equivalent of $9,000, nearly the average annual salary. Even if the protest had been authorized, the opposition would have struggled to draw a crowd. Enthusiasm for street demonstrations has waned, in part because of disillusionment with the opposition leaders, while polls show that discontent with Putin’s government has continued to rise.

Police dispersed the rally after 2 ½ hours. Several prominent opposition figures were among dozens detained in the course of the gathering, but all were released within hours. There was a heavy police presence around the approximately 3,000 people who came to Lubyanka Square for the rally. The square is outside the headquarters of the Federal Security Service, the main successor agency of the Soviet KGB.

The square also holds the Solovetsky Stone, a monument to the victims of political repression during the Soviet era. The stone comes from the Solovestky archipelago, the site of early prison camps considered the beginning of the Gulag system.

Many rally participants laid flowers at the stone, among them Boris Nemtsov, a veteran Russian politician now in the opposition. “The people who have come here are free, honest and decent people,” Nemtsov said “I’m very proud of our people, of Muscovites, of Russians. They (the government) wanted to scare us, there’s a helicopter flying over us and they’ve surrounded us with policemen. They think that we’re slaves, but we’re not. We’re free people, and thank God for that.”

About 90 minutes into the rally, police arrested about a dozen people who were walking around the monument chanting “Free political prisoners.” Earlier, police detained protest leaders Sergei Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny, along with other prominent opposition figures including Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak, a glamorous TV personality.

“They fear their citizens, they fear their people. But you can’t forbid the people (from coming),” Udaltsov said shortly before he was bundled into a police van. One person who braved frigid temperatures of minus 15 Celsius (5 degrees Fahrenheit) and the threat of huge fines to come to Saturday’s gathering was 67-year-old Andrei Lyakhov, a retired physicist.

“At a minimum, the government will understand that there is some kind of opposition,” he said about why he came. Lyakhov noted that the protest mood of the past year had put pressure on nominal opposition parties in Russia’s parliament to criticize the dominant Kremlin party, producing some of the most contentious debates in years. “This pressure on the government, even if we don’t succeed in changing the government, this pressure will force it to do something,” he said.

The goal, Lyakhov said, is a real democracy that allows a change of leadership. Putin, whose term runs through 2018, has already been in power for nearly 13 years.

Jim Heintz, Max Seddon and Laura Mills contributed to this story.

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