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Khodorkovsky Supporters Rally In Russian City

Mikhail Khodorkovsky
SARATOV, Russia -- Dozens of supporters of jailed former Russian oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky held a public protest in Saratov today, RFE/RL's Russian Service reports.

The protest was organized and coordinated by the Saratov Oblast branch of the opposition Yabloko party. The local authorities originally granted permission to stage the protest in the city center, but later withdrew it. The activists then organized individual pickets under the slogan "Khodorkovsky Is Not a Thief and Should Not Be in Jail!"

During his televised public question-and-answer session last week, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said that Khodorkovsky is a thief and should be in jail. Russian human rights activists criticized Putin's statement as pressure on the judges who are expected to pronounce a verdict on Khodorkovsky next week.

Khodorkovsky, the former head of the Yukos oil giant, and his former associate, Platon Lebedev, went on trial on March 3, 2009, on charges of embezzling millions of tons of oil and money laundering.

The verdict was expected last week but was postponed at the last moment until December 27.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to embezzlement. They are currently in jail on fraud and tax-evasion charges that critics say were fabricated to punish Khodorkovsky for financing opposition parties.

Activists from Yabloko, the Solidarnost (Solidarity) movement, the United Civic Front opposition group, and other nongovernmental organizations took part in today's protest in Saratov.

The protestors told RFE/RL's correspondent that similar protests will be held in Saratov next week.

Read in Russian here