Anti-Putin activists unbowed by arrests

Anti-Putin activists unbowed by arrests

Anti-Putin activists unbowed by arrests

Protesters attend an anti-Putin rally at the Pushkin Square on March 5. Amid charges of fraud, demonstrators take to the streets a day after Putin declared victory. ABACA photo

Russia’s opposition vowed to wage a campaign of civil disobedience yesterday after police detained hundreds in rallies against Vladimir Putin’s crushing victory in polls.

“Tens of thousands will be coming out on the streets of Moscow and other cities and refusing to leave,” popular blogger Alexei Navalny told reporters after spending part of the night in detention. “We will keep doing this until our demands are met.” Navalny and two other leaders of the disparate anti-Putin opposition were due to attend hearings yesterday after refusing to break up a rally in Moscow late March 5 when given a police ultimatum.

March 5 protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg mark a sobering start for a leader who knew no dissent while dominating Russia in his first two terms in the Kremlin in 2000-2008. Police reported detaining 250 people in Moscow and another 370 in Putin’s native city of Saint Petersburg. Putin won March 4 presidential election with 63.6 percent of the vote and in May will be sworn in to serve for a six-year term that can theoretically be extended. But European monitors raised concerns about the polls and the opposition -- its leaders excluded from both the polls and most access to state media -- have vowed to make protests a permanent feature of Putin’s new presidency.

‘Awakening of society’
Liberal campaigner Ilya Yashin faced a 15-day jail sentence while Navalny himself said he may have to pay a small fine. Opposition leaders said they will have to cancel a protest on International Woman’s Day public holiday tomorrow and would now prepare for mass events over the weekend.

“The awakening of society,” was how the respected Vedomosti daily headlined a front-page editorial analyzing the difficulties Putin was likely to encounter on his return to the Kremlin. “The possible return of Putin for two more terms has brought on fears of stagnation and despair,” it said.