Russia opposition to rally against 'fraudsters' ahead of locals polls

Moscow (AFP) –


Angry Russian opposition politicians and their supporters were set Saturday to protest at the refusal of the electoral authorities to allow popular candidates to register for local polls.

More than 8,000 people said they planned to attend or were interested in a central Moscow rally to support allies of President Vladimir Putin's top foe Alexei Navalny and other Kremlin critics in their bid to run for the capital's parliament in September.

Organisers urged Muscovites to take to the streets at 1100 GMT to support a new crop of popular politicians including Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol and Dmitry Gudkov after the election authorities refused to register them.

They said in a post on Facebook that they were demonstrating for a Russia "without bandits, fraudsters, swindlers and thieves",

Opposition candidates have fought tooth and nail to get on the ballot paper as they seek to capitalise on popular discontent, with falling approval ratings for Putin and anger over declining living standards and unchecked corruption.

- We are not 'dead souls' -

Unlike most pro-Kremlin candidates, the independent candidates have run genuine campaigns and jumped through countless hoops. Each of them had to collect roughly 5,000 signatures from supporters to be eligible to run.

But this week electoral authorities refused to register them, accusing them of faking some of the signatures.

Critics said some of the officials' reasoning bordered on the absurd.

Officials refused to recognise the signatures of a number of prominent figures including Viktor Sheinis, one of the authors of the Russian constitution.

Authorities also employed spoilers to draw support from popular candidates and deployed police to arrest them.

The refusal to register the opposition sparked fury among the independent candidates and many liberal Russians, with Sobol, a 31-year-old lawyer and Navalny ally, launching a hunger strike last week.

Many have taken to social media to post messages or videos to prove they were not "dead souls."

Greg Yudin, a lecturer at the Higher School of Economics, who supported an independent candidate but whose signature was not recognised, said he was surprised to discover -- along with thousands of other Muscovites -- that he apparently did not exist.

"All of us are ghosts. We are the nobodies," he said on Facebook.

Political observer Kirill Rogov said the refusal to allow the independents to run was "one of the largest frauds in Russia's electoral history".

"We are witnessing a major large-scale crime," he wrote on his blog.