Russians Brave Cold to Rally For Fair Elections

Posted February 4th, 2012 at 3:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Despite bitter cold temperatures tens of thousands of protesters turned out in Moscow and other Russian cities Saturday to demand fair elections, but also to support the government.

Russian news media say up to 35,000 people participated in the rally in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square. But organizers say there were many more. Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, says the big turnout in the cold weather shows that people want change.

“It is a fantastic success. Especially with this dogged cold. And this is no joke. When more than a hundred thousand people go out in the street with this cold weather, it means that they are really fed up.”

Protesters shouted slogans and carried banners saying “Russia without Putin.” Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will run for a third presidential term in March 4 vote. Polls show that he will win the election.

Russian media say that many more pro-government demonstrators gathered in another location in Moscow Saturday. Moscow media reported some complaints from state employees — teachers, nurses, and post office workers — that they were forced to attend a pro-Putin demonstration. But Prime Minister Putin said it would not be possible to gather so many people if they did not want to come.

“So many people came, I don't think anyone expected it. Honestly, I didn't expect it either. According to official information, there were about 134,000 and according to Moscow authorities' data 190,000. Certainly when the authorities organize something there's always talk about

the administrative resources. I don't rule out that there were some elements of these resources here as well, but it's not possible to gather 134,000 or 190,000 just on administrative resources alone. It's not possible. It's quite obvious that the people came to express their position and this is connected to their support of what we are doing.''

Opposition politicians claim Mr. Putin's United Russia party stole one million votes in the December parliamentary vote in order to maintain control of the lower house. The leader of the Left Front movement said it was a wake-up call for many Russians.

“Russia has radically changed after December 4th's dishonest elections. People started to feel that they are citizens and that many things depend on them, that there is a need to obtain real change from the authorities and to put these authorities under the control of the people.”

Mr. Putin served two presidential terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister. Moscow has since extended the presidential term to six-years.