Russians should skip protest due to cold: chief doctor

Russians should skip protest due to cold: chief doctor

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
Russians should skip protest due to cold: chief doctor

Russian riot police officers detain an opposition activist in central Moscow, during an unauthorised protest rally to defend Article 31 of the Russian constitution which guarantees freedom of assembly, on January 31, 2012. AFP photo

Russians should avoid attending the protest against the rule of Vladimir Putin in Moscow at the weekend to protect their health amid a spell of cold weather, the country's chief doctor said Thursday.

Tens of thousands of people are expected to rally for a march in the Russian capital on Saturday in the third mass protest challenging Putin ahead of next month's presidential elections.

"The forecast for Saturday is extremely unfavourable with temperatures of minus 18 degrees Celsius predicted. This is a very low temperature for Moscow," said Gennady Onishchenko, Russia's chief sanitary doctor.

"If this forecast is true then I categorically advise people not to take part in these protests," Onishchenko, who is also the head of Russia's consumer protection watchdog, told the Interfax news agency.

Onishchenko is notorious in Russia for frequently intervening in political disputes, notably by banning on health grounds the import of certain goods from a state that has fallen into Moscow's disfavour.

The low temperatures mean the protestors were best advised not to show up to the meeting and instead should "find other ways of participating in the formation of a happier country," he said.

In a rival demonstration, thousands of Putin supporters are expected to rally in Moscow at the same time, just a few kilometres away.

Onishchenko warned those still intending to march on Saturday that "tea and warm drinks will not save you and could also play a negative role."