Thousands of Russians challenge Putin’s rule

Thousands of Russians challenge Putin’s rule

Thousands of Russians challenge Putin’s rule

Tens of thousands of protesters chanting ‘Russia will be free’ rally in Moscow against President Putin’s third term despite a police crackdown on their leaders a day earlier. AFP photo

Russian President Vladimir Putin vowed yesterday not to let Russia be weakened by social shocks, as tens of thousands of demonstrators gathered in Moscow to protest his third term.

“We cannot accept anything that weakens our country or divides society,” he said in a televised address on the Russia Day national holiday. “We cannot tolerate decisions and actions capable of leading to social and economic shocks.”

Putin’s Kremlin appearance came as thousands of demonstrators joined the first major Moscow protest since his May 7 swearing in ceremony.Since embarking on his third presidential term, Putin has taken a stern stance toward the opposition, including signing a repressive new bill last week introducing heavy penalties for those taking part in unauthorized rallies. The law says participants at public gatherings where order is deemed to have been violated with injury or damage to property can be fined as much as $9,200, about 60 times more than the previous maximum.

‘Welcome to the Year 1937’
Police searched opposition leaders’ apartments a day before the rally, carting away computers, cellphones and other personal items.

They also demanded that opposition leaders come in for questioning yesterday just an hour before the rally began, widely seen as a crude attempt by the government to scare protesters. The top Twitter hashtag in Russia on June 11 was “Welcome to the Year ‘37,” a reference to the height of the purges under Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin, according to daily Guardian. The largely youthful crowds, many wearing the movement’s symbolic white ribbons, made their way down leafy boulevards from Moscow’s central Pushkin Square. Activists put the number of protesters at 100,000, while police estimated that about 20,000 showed up. Aerial television footage of the main rally suggested a figure of at least double that quoted by police.

The websites of Russia’s main independent news sources also became inaccessible just as protesters began gathering at the central Puskin Square for their march. Those affected included the Moscow Echo radio station and the Dozhd (Rain) TV website, as well as prominent opposition twice-weekly newspaper Novaya Gazeta. Putin did not directly refer to the protests in his comments yesterday, in which he explained his views on Russia’s place in the political transformations now gripping many nations across the world. He suggested that he would be open to changes as long as they were cautious and well thought though.

“We see the profound transformations now happening in the modern world,” Putin said. “Russia must assume a dignified position in these processes. It should be receptive to everything new and advanced. But this should be done based on our accumulated experience of stability,” he said, using the word that defined his election campaign.

Compiled from AFP and AP stories by the Daily News staff.