Thousands Protest Alleged Election Fraud In Russia

Tens of thousands of people demonstrated in cities across Russia Saturday to protest alleged vote-rigging in recent parliamentary elections. The protests are the largest in the country since the fall of the Soviet Union. Reporter Peter van Dyk updates host Scott Simon from Moscow.

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Tens of thousands of people have demonstrated in cities across Russia today to protest alleged vote-rigging in recent parliamentary elections. Protests reportedly took place in more than 50 cities, but the largest by far was in Moscow. Reporter Peter van Dyk is in Moscow and joins us. Peter, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: You were in the crowds. What were they like?

VAN DYK: It was an amazing atmosphere. It's the sort of gathering that Moscow hasn't seen for many years, and obviously, therefore, for many of the people there, the first time. It was a buoyant atmosphere - very vibrant. There was a unity of purpose.


VAN DYK: And no...

SIMON: What is the common cause? What do we hear demonstrators calling for?

VAN DYK: The thing that they're most angry about is the parliamentary elections last Sunday. Observers said there was fraud in the elections and a lot of Russians themselves monitored the elections, recorded evidence of fraud on their phones. And this is something that has really built up a lot of emotion in many people here. Here's one of the protesters, Dimitry Ryov(ph), a lawyer for an international law firm.

DIMITRY RYOV: So, it's really very difficult to leave now here, because we will know that what is the liberty; that's what we want. Or what is a democratic country. But in fact, we see corruption. There is no freedom.

VAN DYK: This corruption that he mentions has also been a big issue. The opposition rally themselves, accusing the United Russia Party, the ruling party, of being the party of crooks and thieves. The feeling is that bureaucrats here make a lot of money off individual people and also of state funds. So, that is something that Russians are very angry about, and they feel like their government is not listening to them.

SIMON: Peter, what's been the response of the Russian government to tens of thousands of people turning out?

VAN DYK: Well, I haven't seen any response from senior figures, but in a way, the fact that tens of thousands of people were allowed to turn out to an unauthorized rally, is a response in itself. So another response is that it was the lead item on the evening news. A week ago on Monday when there were large protests in Moscow - at least 5,000 people - that didn't make the main evening news. So in a way, there's a response in the fact it happened and it was covered by the biggest news media.

SIMON: And has social media been involved, the way it has been in some mass movements we've seen in other parts of the world over the past year and a half?

VAN DYK: It certainly is involved. It's a very important thing for Russian opposition groups. A lot of the evidence that the people themselves have gathered of vote fraud has been published on blogs, on the Internet. So that's been a factor in building the anger, and then all these 50 or so protests that have taken place across Russia today, they've each had a page on the social networking site - on Facebook, particularly, for the Moscow one, but also on Vkontakte, which is the Russian equivalent of Facebook. So people have been able to sign up on those sites and see where in their towns to go and at what time. So that definitely has been a factor in these protests.

SIMON: Reporter Peter van Dyk, in Moscow. Thanks so much.

VAN DYK: Thank you.


SIMON: You're listening to NPR News.

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