Moscow Protesters Vow to Defy Kremlin Ban

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Russian authorities have banned Saturday's planned demonstration in Moscow against the Kremlin. The "Other Russia" coalition, led by former chess champion Garry Kasparov, says it will go ahead anyway.


Opposition groups in Russia are planning a major protest tomorrow in Moscow. That's despite a government ban on the same event. Last month riot police finally broke up an unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg. Thousands had gathered to criticize President Vladimir Putin's growing authoritarianism when the police moved in. This time, organizers hope even more people will turn out.

NPR's Gregory Feifer reports.

GREGORY FEIFER: The March of the Discontented is being organized by a coalition of opposition groups called Other Russia. One of its leaders is chess champion Garry Kasparov, who is a prominent Putin critic.

(Soundbite of many people speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: At a meeting with other opposition figures this week, Kasparov criticized the Kremlin for using force to stifle public dissent.

Mr. GARRY KASPAROV (Other Russia): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Russia today is a police state by any measure, he said. Nothing prevents the authorities from doing whatever they want. The only thing that can stop them now is for people to come out onto the streets.

Since taking office seven years ago, Putin has abolished regional elections, overseen the state takeover of the national media, and cracked down against human rights groups. The government denied permission for tomorrow's march to start in a central square. Kasparov says the march will go ahead there anyway, but defying the Russian authorities is becoming increasingly difficult and dangerous.

(Soundbite of many people speaking foreign language)

FEIFER: Many thousands of riot police stopped a demonstration in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod earlier this month, beating would-be protestors and journalists. Analysts say the authorities are cracking down ahead of a presidential election next year, when Putin's term limit expires. Stanford professor Michael McFaul says even though whoever Putin names as his favorite successor will almost certainly win, the Kremlin hasn't yet established a mechanism for handing over power.

Professor MICHAEL MCFAUL (Stanford University): And so there is uncertainty about that transition process, and therefore a nervousness within the regime about how that process is going to occur. And you know it just exposes their own sense of illegitimacy.

FEIFER: Most of the organizers of this weekend's march are members of the National Bolshevik Party, which the government has labeled extremist under a new law. The authorities are threatening media with legal action for even mentioning the party's name.

Unidentified Man: (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Police have already arrested several protest organizers. Still, National Bolshevik members are going out onto the capital's streets to urge Muscovites to attend Saturday's march. Handing out pamphlets at a busy intersection next to a metro station, Yuri Chervichuk(ph) says he and other volunteers often have to dodge police.

Mr. YURI CHERVICHUK (National Bolshevik Party): (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: If they detain us they illegally confiscate our flyers, he said. We've been able to get out the word for the past several days, but we'll see what happens the day of the march.

This weekend's demonstrators may face a new obstacle - competing rallies by pro-Kremlin organizations. Other Russia leaders say the authorities may even sanction nationalist groups to provoke violent clashes. A recent poll says more than 60 percent of Russians say the authorities should let the opposition conduct demonstrations. Kasparov says that scares the Kremlin, whose greatest fear is a united opposition.

Mr. KASPAROV: (Foreign language spoken)

FEIFER: Everything depends on how many people are ready to say no to the government, he said. When 50,000 people come out the government will crumble because there won't be enough police.

Other Russia is planning a second march in St. Petersburg on Sunday.

Gregory Feifer, NPR News, Moscow.

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