Putin defiant after new mass rally rocks Russia
A general view of a demonstration is seen against recent parliamentary election results in Moscow on Dec 24. Tens of thousands of flag-waving and chanting protesters call for a disputed parliamentary election to be rerun, increasing pressure on Vladimir Putin as he seeks a new term as Russian president until 2024. REUTERS photoOver 100,000 protestors jammed a Moscow avenue Dec. 24 demanding free elections and an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s 12-year rule in the largest show of public outrage since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Organizers said 120,000 people attended a rally in central Moscow where protesters chanted slogans against Putin and called to annul the disputed December elections his had party won. Police said there were 29,000 protestors but correspondents said the turnout was clearly higher than a similar rally two weeks ago.
In response to protests, Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said Putin still has the majority’s support Russia. “As a politician and a presidential candidate, Putin still has the support of a majority. And we should treat the opinion of a majority with respect.”
Peskov went on to say Putin was “beyond competition” as a candidate in March 2012 presidential polls, where the Russian strongman plans to stand for a third Kremlin term after his four-year stint as prime minister. “It is obvious that Putin is still a member of the presidential race beyond competition.”
He said the protest had taken place and said the demonstrators’ position was to be treated with respect. “Indeed, a protest took place. It was a peaceful protest in accordance with law which causes respect.”
“As far as their demands are concerned,” Peskov said, “their opinion is being heard and their opinion is being respected. Those people who came out onto the streets – they are a very important part of society. But they are a minority.”
The last Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, also called on Putin to quit, just as he had done Dec. 25, 1991 when the USSR collapsed exactly two decades ago. “I’m happy that I have lived to see the people waking up. This raises big hopes,” the 80-year-old Gorbachev said on Echo of Moscow radio.
He urged Putin to follow his example and give up power peacefully, saying Putin would be remembered for the positive things he did if he stepped down now.
Russia’s state television took the unexpected decision to cover the rally, showing an easing of a long-held taboo against direct criticism of Putin. “Sharply negative appraisals of Vladimir Putin have been voiced several times,” said a report about the rally broadcast on Channel One. “Channel One honestly speaks of the anti-Putin nature of today’s meeting. That, obviously, cannot be pure coincidence,” said Vladimir Varfolomeyev, a commentator with the liberal Echo of Moscow.
Mass protests were triggered by widespread claim of wholesale violations in the parliamentary polls this month which handed a reduced majority to Putin’s ruling United Russia party. The blogger, 35-year-old Russian blogger and political activist Alexei Navalny vowed one million people would attend the next anti-Putin rally but the opposition has yet to announce when this will happen.
Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.