Thousands march through Moscow in support of anti-Putin protesters
MOSCOW – Agence France-Presse
Gay rights activists take part in an opposition protest march in Moscow, June 12, 2013. Thousands of protesters marched in Moscow on Wednesday, calling for Russian President Vladimir Putin's resignation and the release of activists facing long jail terms over violence at a rally on the eve of his inauguration to a third term last year. Banner read, "Equal rights". REUTERS/Maxim ShemetovSeveral thousand people marched through Moscow June 12 to support detained or jailed anti-Kremlin protesters, a day after President Vladimir Putin accused Washington of supporting a protest movement against him.
Led by anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, the protest dubbed the “March Against Butchers” was aimed at supporting twelve activists accused of violence at an opposition rally last year as well as jailed activists.
“One, two, three, Putin leave!” and “Russia without Putin,” chanted the protesters as they marched through central Moscow carrying anti-Putin banners and flags of all hues. Some wits chanted “Lyudmila without Putin,” in reference to Putin’s stunning announcement that he was divorcing his wife Lyudmila of 30 years. Some 7,000 to 10,000 people participated in the march, while police put the turnout at 5,000 people.
Navalny joined other prominent Russians like Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister turned opposition leader, and poet Dmitry Bykov who rubbed shoulders with liberal and leftist activists amid a heavy police presence.
Some at the march held pictures of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who has been behind bars since 2003 after he fell foul of the Kremlin for his support of the opposition. Others called on the authorities to free two members of the Pussy Riot punk rock band who are serving two-year sentences for an anti-Putin stunt in a Moscow church. “Putin is a shame for the country” and “Down with the presidential autocracy” read some of the banners.
The march, timed to coincide with the Day of Russia, a national holiday, comes after Putin on June 11 evening accused Washington of supporting the opposition against him. “Our diplomatic services do not actively cooperate with Occupy Wall Street, but your diplomatic service actively cooperates and directly supports (Russian opposition),” Putin told the English-language state-funded television channel Russia Today. Putin has earlier accused the State Department of financing the protest movement against him, acidly saying it was “money thrown to the wind.”
Two dozen people face jail over their involvement in last year’s rally in a criminal probe activists have condemned as a throwback to the Stalin era. Navalny himself faces up to 10 years in prison on charges of embezzling half a million dollars in a timber deal.
Critics say the trials of the opposition activists are part of an unprecedented clampdown which has also seen a string of tough laws fast-tracked through parliament over the past few months. On June 11, the State Duma lower house passed two controversial bills that impose jail terms for people promoting homosexual “propaganda” to minors and those who offend religious believers.