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Russia: Political, Economic Demands Dominate Protest Marches

Moscow, 27 March 1997 (RFE/RL) -- Russians taking part in a nationwide day of protest today demanded the resignation of President Boris Yeltsin and the newly-appointed Russian government, as well as the payment of back wages and pensions.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov addressed demonstrators in Moscow's Red Square. He said today's rallies were aimed at making clear that no reshuffle and other measures can stop workers to protest against undelivered promises to pay wages and pensions. An hour after it had begun, the Red Square rally had drawn no more than 25,000 people.

In St. Petersburg more than 40,000 gathered in Palace Square, despite a heavy snowstorm. St. Petersburg's Governor Vladimir Yakovlev told the rally money to pay arrears was already on the way. Local radio reported factories had started paying back wages just as the rally started.

RFE/RL correspondents across Russian cities and towns said banners carried by protesters were calling in particular for the resignation of Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and of his first deputy Anatoly Chubais.

Newly-appointed first deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov told a rally in his home town of Nizhny Novgorod demands that he resign seemed premature and that he was convinced the government will be able to change the situation.

Russia's Interior Ministry said protests had taken place in 44 Russian regions. No incidents were reported.The turnout was reported to be far lower than the 17 million people predicted by trade union leaders.

An RFE/RL correspondent in Vladivostok says protesters decided to collect signatures for a referendum on Yeltsin's resignation, a method foreseen by the Russian constitution. Motions of no-confidence in the president also were put forward at meetings in the Siberian town of Novosibirsk.

Meanwhile, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said today Yeltsin is keeping abreast with developments in the one-day nationwide strike and said he considers "justified the economic demands of protesters." Today, Yeltsin signed a decree instructing the government to tighten controls over wage and pension allocations.