Thousands rally against Russian government

Kremlin panel says it has proof of mass violations in parliamentary poll, as anti-Putin protests erupt across country.

Russia Moscow protest

Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated to express their anger at alleged rigging in Russia’s parliamentary elections, as a human rights group set up by the Russian president has recommended that a snap election be held.

Opposition activists staged their second set of nationwide rallies on Saturday to protest against what they say were rigged elections on December 4.

Throngs of protesters gathered on Sakharov Avenue, in the capital Moscow, cheering opposition leaders and chanting slogans against Vladimir Putin, the Russian prime minister, and Dmitry Medvedev, the president.

Police formed cordons around the protesters but did not attempt to disrupt the demonstration, as marchers chanted various slogans, including “We are the power!” and “We will come again!”.

“We have enough people here to take the Kremlin,” shouted Alexei Navalny, an opposition activist who has played a key role in organising the unprecedented protests since the election, to the crowd. “But we are peaceful people and we won’t do that – yet. But if these crooks and thieves keep cheating us, we will take what is ours.”

Alexei Kudrin, the country’s former finance minister, addressed the rally, saying that the country risked another “revolution” if protesters did not choose to engage in dialogue with the government. Protesters then loudly whistled in disapproval of Kudrin’s statement.

Protests took place in scores of towns and cities across the country’s nine timezones throughout the day, including in St Petersburg, Russia’s second city, where thousands gathered.

“[Protesters] want to make sure they send the clearest signal yet of growing public discontent with the results of this year’s parliamentary election,” Al Jazeera’s Neave Barker reported from Moscow.

Listening Post – A Russian winter: Putin, protests, propaganda

Representatives of the Far Eastern branches of the Russian Communist party and the liberal Yabloko party, as well as individual protesters, gathered on Korabelnaya Embanktment in Vladivostok on Saturday to demand new parliamentary elections.

Some protesters carried posters calling for Putin, currently PM, to be prevented from becoming Russia’s president again.

Others openly called him “a supreme crook” and demanded he be put on trial.

Many of the protesters wore the movement’s iconic white ribbons, and others carried balloons and flags at a rally which brought together liberals, nationalists, anarchists, environmentalists and urban youth on a bitterly cold day.

A single policeman in Vladivostok tried to persuade the demonstrators to disperse, but people argued that they had the right to assemble.

“Most certainly, what [the Kremlin] wants to try and avoid is a repeat performance of the kind of violent clashes that were seen between protesters and riot police directly after elections,” our correspondent reported.

Rigging allegations

A human rights group set up by the Russian president, meanwhile, has called for snap elections.

The Kremlin’s rights panel also called for the resignation of the election chief on Saturday in a statement about what it called “discredited” polls that have sparked mass demonstrations.

Recommendations by the panel – which advises Medvedev on rights and social issues – are not binding but will add to pressure on the authorities for radical changes in the wake of the polls.

It said that there was “mass distrust of the poll results” which showed significantly diminished support for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, but still gave it a majority in parliament.

The Kremlin panel added that new election laws should be put in place “with the aim of then calling snap elections” to replace the current parliament that met for its first session on Wednesday.

“Numerous reports of ballot stuffing, re-writing of protocols of ballot results, an unjustified removal of observers and journalists [from polling stations], a ban on photography and video recording and other violations of electoral rights as well as inexplicable paradoxes of electoral statistics lead to mass distrust of the poll results,” the panel’s statement said.

Gorbachev calls for resignation

Incensed by claims of wholesale violations in the polls that handed a reduced majority to Putin’s ruling party, tens of thousands of people had already taken to the streets across Russia on December 10.

Those protests were the biggest show of public anger in Russia since the 1990s and the first sign of a growing challenge to Putin’s 12-year domination of the country.

Some 50,000 demonstrated on December 10, the biggest protest to take place in the capital in a decade [EPA]

Among those who have voiced their dissent against the current government is the Soviet Union’s last leader, 80-year-old Mikhail Gorbachev, who is critical of the recent elections.

On Saturday, he called on Vladimir Putin to “leave now”, labeling his three terms in office – two as president and one as prime minister – as “enough”.

In an earlier interview with the Novaya Gazeta on Friday, Gorbachev said that he was ashamed by Putin’s reaction to the protests, after the Russian strongman compared the white ribbons worn by demonstrators to condoms.

Anti-Kremlin blogger Navalny was at the rally after his release from prison following a brief sentence for his participation in a protest shortly after the elections.

President Medvedev proposed a package of reforms in an apparent bid to appease the protesters on Thursday, including the resumption of direct elections for governors and a simplified procedure to register political parties.

But it is unlikely the moves will satisfy protesters who want the government to annul the ballot results, sack Vladimir Churov, the election commission chief, and hold a new vote.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies