Low turnout for latest anti-Putin protest
Thousands of anti-Putin protesters took to the streets of Moscow on Saturday, but the turnout was far lower than that seen at recent rallies against the Russian president. A handful of marchers including leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov were arrested.
AFP - Thousands protested on Saturday against Vladimir Putin's domination of Russia, but the event struggled to live up to the success of past mass rallies after his crushing election victory.
The protest, which ended with a handful of arrests, was a fraction of the size of previous rallies in Moscow, in a sign the opposition is finding it hard to maintain momentum after Putin won a third Kremlin term on March 4.
Moscow city hall had approved a demonstration of up to 50,000 people on the New Arbat street in the city centre, but police put the number attending at 10,000. At previous rallies, around 100,000 people turned out.
One of the protest leaders, liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, told the rally that 25,000 people had come, although AFP correspondents estimated the figure was well below this.
At the end of the tightly policed rally, leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov attempted to lead an unsanctioned march of around 60 people to a central square, but police roughly detained him and several others.
Speakers such as former world chess champion Garry Kasparov sought to mobilise the protestors. However one of the movement's figureheads Alexei Navalny, who has roused crowds in the past with fiery speeches, did not take to the stage.
"The worst thing that can happen is that we get demoralised and say that the authorities have won," said Kasparov. "We have experienced resistance for the first time and it is just the start."
The protest leaders, many of whom had observed the polls, claimed there were huge violations in the elections and repeatedly said that neither the ballot nor Putin's election to president were legitimate.
"That person who cries crocodile tears, can you call him an elected president?," asked Udaltsov, referring to the tears Putin famously shed in his victory speech.
He urged people to turn out for further rallies in central Moscow leading up to the "pretender" Putin's inauguration as president in May.
But journalist and television presenter Ksenia Sobchak told the rally the opposition needed to clarify its demands. "We all know what we are against, we must show what we are for," she said, to whistling from some in the crowd.
Those at the rally said they came because of the need to keep up pressure on the authorities.
"The people who are here have realised that they have rights and that these are being violated. More people need to do the same," said Lyudmila Zaichik, 18.
"We need to show that people aren't resigned, that the movement won't disappear," said student Arkady Serinkin, 22.
The protest was held a day after US President Barack Obama phoned Putin to congratulate him on his election victory, in a call that came several days after other world leaders but underlined the importance of the relationship.
The controversy over elections and demonstrations has on occasion tested US-Russia relations, with Putin accusing Washington of funding non-government groups with the aim of questioning the polls and sparking protests.
Police also detained around 40 people at an unsanctioned march Saturday in the northwestern city of Saint Petersburg, an AFP journalist witnessed.
Truncheon-wielding police detained around 50 protesters at another unsanctioned protest in the central Russian city of Nizhny Novgorod, an opposition activist said.
After holding four mass protests over the past three months and successfully breaking the taboo against opposition rallies in Russia, the movement now faces the huge challenge of deciding what to do next.
The protest movement as a whole now needs to change tactics, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko who is one of the main organisers of the Moscow rallies, told Kommersant FM radio.
"I'm not sure the next event will be a rally. In my opinion, we drew a really beautiful conclusion to a three-month cycle that started in December. I think the time has come now to analyse what has happened, regroup and move on."
Putin, currently prime minister, won 63.6 percent of the vote in the elections and is now preparing for a May inauguration to take back the Kremlin job he held from 2000-2008 from his protege Dmitry Medvedev.