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Russians Rally In Moscow, Other Cities Despite Harassment

  • RFE/RL

Estimates of the crowd size varied widely, with police saying some 18,000 attended and organizers citing figures from 30,000 to 100,000.

Estimates of the crowd size varied widely, with police saying some 18,000 attended and organizers citing figures from 30,000 to 100,000.

MOSCOW -- Tens of thousands of Muscovites have taken to the streets for a march and demonstration against the continued rule of President Vladimir Putin.

Estimates of the crowd size varied widely, with police saying some 18,000 attended and organizers citing figures from 30,000 to 100,000.

Russian human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin told a Russian news agency the rally was attended by 100,000 people.

No violence or arrests were reported.

(WATCH video of the march)

The demonstration endorsed a multipoint resolution calling for Putin's resignation, the drafting of a new Electoral Code, the disbanding of the State Duma, and new national legislative and presidential elections.

In reading the demonstration's resolution to the crowd, environmental activist Yevgenia Chirikova said the "the first measure that needs to be taken is the resignation of Vladimir Putin." She also said it would be "necessary to dismantle the current political regime in accordance with the existing constitution."

Duma Deputy Gennady Gudkov, of the A Just Russia party, also addressed the crowd and called on "citizens across the country, in all towns big and small, to take to the streets and say what they think about the government and demand change. Russia should be free, democratic, and the government should be honest."

In televised remarks made while the protest was occurring, Putin said: "We cannot accept anything that weakens our country or divides our society."

He said the government will not "tolerate decisions and actions capable of leading to social and economic shocks."

Small demonstrations in support of the Moscow protest were also held in Tyumen, Ufa, Krasnoyarsk, and other cities, as were counterdemonstrations by supporters of Putin and the ruling United Russia party.

Some 500 protesters held a prodemocracy march in St. Petersburg.

One demonstrator at the Moscow event, a 29-year-old office worker who identified himself as Andrei, told RFE/RL that protesters are frustrated by "the lawlessness that is happening in our country" as well as the "injustice" that he says prevails under Putin.

The demonstrations, part of a series of protests dubbed "The March of Millions," began with the June 12 march through downtown Moscow.

Official Obstacles

Several prominent opposition leaders did not attend the rally because they had been summoned by prosecutors for questioning in connection with a May 6 demonstration that ended in clashes between protesters and police.

Prominent opposition figure Ilya Yashin, Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov, anticorruption blogger Aleksei Navalny, and television personality Ksenia Sobchak were called by prosecutors for questioning in connection with a May 6 protest that led to clashes between demonstrators and police.

Both Sobchak and Yashin were questioned by prosecutors on June 12, in the hours before the Moscow rally, following police raids on their homes the previous day.

Udaltsov announced he would ignore his summons in order to attend the protest, which began at 1:00 p.m. local time.

FOLLOW the RFE/RL Russian Service's live blog of the protests

On June 11, investigators carried out about a dozen searches of homes and offices of opposition leaders, seizing computers, telephones, and other property.

Following the search of his home, Navalny's comments were edged with irony.

"A 13-hour-long search is over; some crime of the century must have happened, because we know there are a total of 160 investigators in the investigative group," he said. "It's something really weird; there must never have been a bigger crime in Moscow than the one that is being investigated now."

Investigators claimed to have confiscated more than 1 million euros ($1.25 million) worth of foreign currency during searches of the homes of Yashin and Sobchak.

On June 12, the website of Moscow's Interior Ministry branch published photographs of cash, which investigators said was seized, and of a plain white envelope with Sobchak's name on it.

Following the search, Sobchak posted on her Twitter account: "My annual income is more than 2 million. Don't I have the right to keep money at home if I do not trust banks?"

Tougher Protest Law

In the past, Russian authorities have asserted that the protests against Putin are being financed by foreign governments and organizations.

Moscow authorities have authorized the June 12 march and rally in central Moscow, the first big planned rally since Putin returned to the Kremlin for a fresh six-year term as president after serving as prime minister.

The raids on opposition leaders come days after Putin signed into law a new measure that imposes severe fines on individuals and organizations that organize or participate in unsanctioned demonstrations or who violate the conditions set by authorities for sanctioned rallies.

The new fines amount to more than $9,000 for individual participants, more than $18,000 for organizers, and more than $30,000 for groups or organizations. The law mandates up to 200 hours of labor for people unable or unwilling to pay the penalties.

It also allows local authorities to compile lists of locations where demonstrations are prohibited.

The United States maintains that it is "deeply concerned about the apparent harassment" of Russia's opposition.

"Taken together, [recent measures against the opposition] raise serious questions about the arbitrary use of law enforcement to stifle free speech and free assembly [in Russia]," said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said.

Opposition politician Sergei Mitrokhin said the raids were a sign Putin was relying on oppressive measures to end dissent in Russia rather than carrying out political reforms.

Leftist leader Udaltsov said the new law and raids would fail in their aim of frightening people and making them "sit quietly at home."

With reporting by RFE/RL's Russian Service, ITAR-TASS, Interfax,, Reuters, and "The New York Times"

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