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Thousands brave cold to join rival Moscow rallies

Text by Ben MCPARTLAND

Latest update : 2012-02-04

Thousands of demonstrators have braved sub-zero temperatures to take to the streets of Moscow in protest against the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, whose supporters are holding their own rally in the Russian capital.

Thousands of demonstrators took part in a mass rally in Moscow on Saturday to demand an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's grip on power.

Police in Moscow said around 90,000 demonstrators also hit the streets in a rival march to show their support for Putin.

The protesters ignored the freezing temperatures to take to the streets one month before presidential elections in which the prime minister is firm favourite to win.

The anti-Putin rally comes just two months after Moscow saw unprecedented protests sparked by allegations of vote rigging and ballot-box stuffing during December’s parliamentary elections.

Organisers of Saturday’s anti-Putin demonstration hoped 50,000 would turn up to demand a re-run of the December polls. Demonstrators are also expected to call for widespread political reform and the release of political prisoners.

Andrew Osborn, Moscow bureau chief for British newspaper the Daily Telegraph, told FRANCE 24 the protesters face a tough task to make their demands heard.

“The Kremlin so far has shown very little sign of giving in,” he told FRANCE 24. But then neither have the protesters.

“We are faced with a stand-off with the Kremlin on one side and the protesters on the other,” Osborn said.

Protest numbers

If Putin wins the presidential election on March 4 he will begin his third term as president after holding office from 2000 until 2008.

He was ineligible to run for a third consecutive term in 2008 but his successor Dmitry Medvedev nominated him as prime minister. Since announcing last year that he would run for a third term in next month's presidential election, Putin has been a shoe-in to win.

Osborn said the success of Saturday’s march will be judged by how many turn up.

“The organisers wanted 50,000 to turn up but it’s extremely cold. The temperature has dropped. It’s minus 22 and there are suggestions that fewer people have signed up for this demonstration than expected,” he said.

“Nevertheless thousands of people are arriving with white balloons and white ribbons which are the symbols of these protests. The event will be very much judged on the numbers who turn up,” Osborn added.

Opposition activists carried banners reading “Mubarak, Gaddafi, then Putin,” referring to long-time rulers ousted in the Arab Spring, and “We will keep coming until they go”.

Date created : 2012-02-04

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