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Protesters Rally Against Russian Mayor's Suspension

Barnaul Mayor Vladimir Kolganov
Barnaul Mayor Vladimir Kolganov
BARNAUL -- Dozens of residents of the Siberian city of Barnaul have held a protest rally in support of suspended city Mayor Vladimir Kolganov, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

Altai Krai Governor Aleksandr Karlin suspended Kolganov on August 12 for "not fulfilling his responsibilities." Sixteen members of the city council have resigned in protest.

Kolganov has recently complained to Russian Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev that the police had illegally threatened him, and that he was being followed and his calls were being monitored.

Karlin has appointed an interim mayor, Igor Savintsev, and has been holding meetings with local officials. However, many local leaders claim that the suspension is illegal, as a local mayor can only be removed from office by a city-council vote.

Liberal Democratic Party of Russia coordinator in Altai Krai Andrei Shchukin says that this kind of action by the governor will trigger a strong backlash.

"This is going to bring together local politicians and the masses because people think, 'Today Kolganov's out -- tomorrow it's me -- and the day after tomorrow it's everyone else,'" Shchukin told RFE/RL. "And then we will have an authoritarian regime and won't even be able to speak out against things. We will be forced to sit in the kitchen, drink vodka, and complain about the government."

Many residents of Barnaul are angry over the decision. They say that local officials should be selected only by popular vote.

Karlin's supporters too are planning a protest for August 27 to demonstrate their support for his decision.

Aleksandr Kynev, a political scientist and head of regional programs for the Moscow-based Foundation for the Development of Informative Politics, says that the ousting of the mayor of Barnaul is a classic example of the battles between governors and mayors in many Russian regions.

"Two years ago the mayoral election in Barnaul was discussed by a local court due to the fact that there was a lot of evidence that the election results were falsified. The regional court cited technical problems and didn't rule on the case, but the violation of the law was never in doubt," Kynev says.

Kynev says that while this is a typical situation in Russia's regions, it is important to note that the mayor says he is prepared to take his case to the Russian Supreme Court, and if necessary to the European Court of Human Rights.

On August 27, Barnaul's city council will meet to decide whether to accept the resignations of the council members.