Russians Hold Dueling Political Rallies

Posted February 4th, 2012 at 6:50 am (UTC-5)
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Tens of thousands of people in Russia are braving bitter cold weather in Moscow to participate in a pair of political rallies: one calling for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to step down, the other supporting him.

Russia's democracy movement is staging the anti-government demonstration to demand greater political freedom, exactly one month before the presidential vote.

Russian police estimate some 23,000 anti-government protesters turned up at a square overlooking the Kremlin Saturday, bearing white ribbons as a symbol of their movement.

But police say around 90,000 people are attending a pro-Putin rally west of the capital. But some Russians have complained they were ordered by their work organizations to participate in the pro-government rally.

Moscow media reported complaints from state employees — teachers, nurses, and post office workers — that they have been ordered to attend the pro-government rally. After a state human rights council opened an anonymous hotline for teachers, 140 calls came in.

In an apparent attempt to cut student attendance at opposition protests, Moscow schools are holding a career training day on Saturday.

Maxim Trudolubov, editorial page editor of the newspaper, Vedomosti, says turnout is key because the Kremlin only responds to street pressure:

He says that while Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has not entered into a dialogue with the democracy movement, his operatives closely watch the size and the slogans of the demonstrations.

The government's biggest ally may be an Arctic cold front that has beset Russia and most of eastern Europe. Moscow temperatures were expected to dip to minus-17 degrees Celsius Saturday.

Mr. Putin served two four-year presidential terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister. Russia has since extended the presidential mandate to six years. Polls show that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is poised to win a third term in the Kremlin despite his declining popularity.