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Government Critics, Backers Take To Russian Streets

Youths attack participants in an opposition-sponsored march in Moscow.
Thousands of Russians have protested across the country as pro- and antigovernment demonstrators squared off amid signs that economic woes are intensifying political friction.

Antigovernment organizers mobilized Kremlin critics under the banner of a "Day of Dissent," with Russian police reportedly detaining more than 40 people during one Moscow protest alone.

There were no reports of arrests of pro-government protesters, as Kremlin backers mobilized thousands of people to counter the opposition demonstrations -- in some cases unauthorized but announced well in advance.

Russia has been hit hard by the international economic crisis following year of economic boom amid record high oil prices. Ordinary Russians have been increasingly concerned about what the future might hold as unemployment and the prices of basic food and utilities have risen rapidly.

"March of Dissent" in Moscow before pro-Kremlin youths assaulted participants.
Opposition forces got the upper hand early in the day, as demonstrations kicked off in Far East cities including Vladivostok and Khabarovsk, where several thousand people hit the streets waving banners with slogans like "The crisis is in the heads of the authorities, not in the economy."

Protesters called for the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government over growing economic problems, and accused authorities of suppressing dissent.

"We are also protesting that we are denied the right to participate in the elections and to be elected," a protester in Vladivostok told RFE/RL's Russian Service. "We are protesting against [the government's] repression against its own people."

The antigovernment rallies in the Far East passed off peacefully.

The situation appeared more tense in the Moscow, where security forces arrested dozens of people, including Eduard Limonov, a leader of the National Bolshevik Party, at an unauthorized rally.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Communist Party supporters rallied on a central square surrounded by heavy police cordons. Addressing the sanctioned gathering, party chief Gennady Zyuganov urged the government to abandon Western economic models and conduct broad nationalization.

Russian police detain someone at banned National-Bolshevik Party rally in Moscow.
In St. Petersburg, where authorities barred opposition groups from holding rallies, opponents of the government put individual protesters on the streets. One of them stood on a street with a placard reading: "Put the government under people's control!"

Dubbed a "Day of Dissent" by Russia's embattled opposition organizers, antigovernment protests included such disparate groups as the United Citizens Front of former chess champion Garry Kasparov, the Soviet Officers Union, and the liberal political party Yabloko.

Also participating is a newly formed organization called TIGR -- a Russian acronym for Fellowship of Active Russian Citizens.

TIGR grew out of a series of demonstrations in Vladivostok in December protesting a controversial hike in automobile-import tariffs. The region has thrived on the car import business and the government's decision has led to job losses.

Those protests were broken up by riot police.

On the other side of the political barricades, thousands of supporters of the ruling Unified Russia were at rallies across the country in support of the government.

RFE/RL's Russian Service correspondent Mumin Shakirov attended one such rally in Moscow, and said Duma members took the podium as "thousands of flags" waved in the crowd.

compiled from RFE/RL and agency reporting

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