Saturday, April 14, 2007

a "pawn" taking on Putin..................

MOSCOW (April 14) - Police detained Garry Kasparov , the former world chess champion who now leads one of Russia's strongest opposition movements, and at least 100 other activists Saturday as they gathered for a forbidden anti-Kremlin demonstration in central Moscow. About 200 Kasparov supporters later gathered outside the police station where he was being held, shouting "freedom for political prisoners." After about an hour, police waded into the crowd, beating some demonstrators with truncheons and kicking them, offering sarcastic good wishes the crowd was forced to disperse. The demonstration, one in a series of so-called Dissenters' Marches, increased tension between opposition supporters who complain the Kremlin is cracking down on political dissent and authorities who vow to block any unauthorized demonstrations. A similar march planned for St. Petersburg on Sunday also has been banned. Since the first such march in December in Moscow, Kasparov has emerged as one of President Vladimir Putin's most prominent critics. He has vowed to accelerate his protest actions as presidential and parliamentary elections approach. Kasparov's United Civil Front organization works with other opposition groups in a loose alliance called Other Russia, which organized the marches. After his detention, he waved and smiled from a police van and did not appear to have been hurt. Police department spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said Kasparov was detained on suspicion of calling for provocations. Gildeyev said about 170 people in total were detained at the square. City authorities gave permission to Other Russia to hold a rally at Turgenev Square, but denied their request to gather at the more central and prominent Pushkin Square, one of Moscow's most well-known public spaces. Other Russia defied the ban and declared they would march from Pushkin Square to the other square, about a mile away. Police detained scores of activists at Pushkin Square, but thousands of others began marching. More than 1,000 others gathered at the authorized rally site. Among them was Mikhail Kasyanov, who was Putin's first prime minister but now has gone into opposition. "Everyone should ask the question: what is happening with our authorities - are they still sane, or have they gone mad?" Kasyanov said, as the crowd chanted "shame on the government." Andrei Illarionov, a former Kremlin economic adviser who came to support the demonstrators, told journalists that the heavy police presence showed "paranoia - there is no rational explanation for this behavior." The crowd began leaving by mid-afternoon. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was observing the march, denied there were political motivations behind the ban, saying authorities were concerned with public order. "We have sanctioned a large number of events, both pro-government and pro-presidential, and also anti-government ones," the mayor said, according to the news agency Interfax. "Processions are a problem for us. We have not allowed pro-presidential organizations to hold them as well." In recent months, three demonstrations - all called Dissenters' Marches - were either broken up harshly or smothered under a massive police presence in Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. If this weekend's protests draw large crowds, they could give momentum to Russia's beleaguered opposition and fuel more demonstrations against the government. If they founder, it could signal further irrelevancy for the opposition, which has been fractured by years of infighting. Russia's mainstream liberal parties, which some critics say have been co-opted by the Kremlin, have largely kept their distance. Grigory Yavlinsky, who heads the Yabloko party, refused to participate in the Moscow march, saying in a statement that "the ideological and political composition of the these actions are unacceptable for Yabloko." In the run-up to the demonstrations, Moscow's city council passed strict new regulations on rallies - including a rule limiting the density of protesters to no more than two people per 10 square feet. This week, prosecutors seized recordings of an Ekho Moskvy radio interview with Eduard Limonov, whose National Bolshevik Party is known for its street theater and political pranks targeting Putin. Since Putin took office in 2000, the Kremlin has moved to centralize power in Russia, created an obedient parliament, abolished direct gubernatorial elections and tightened restrictions on civic groups. Kremlin critics are now rarely heard on major TV networks. Putin also brought stability after a decade of chaos, and has presided over rapid economic growth. Polls rate him as by far the most popular political figure in Russia. Russia's parliament on Friday accused the United States of meddling in its politics before the elections, adopting angry statements criticizing a State Department report that outlined U.S. aid to Russian non-governmental organizations.

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