Russian Protests Seeking Ouster of Putin Fall Short

KALININGRAD, Russia — Russians held relatively small demonstrations across the country on Saturday to call for the ouster of Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, seeking to mobilize discontent over a faltering economy, rising prices and government officials perceived as unresponsive to average people.

Yuri Maltsev/Reuters

Opponents of the Russian government rallied in Vladivostok on Saturday as part of a day of demonstrations across the country.

Organizers, after weeks of appealing for support for a “Day of Anger,” had hoped to bring out tens of thousands of protesters from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast all the way to Kaliningrad, here on the Baltic Sea. But turnout fell short of their predictions.

“This country is one of the richest in the world, and people here live in poverty,” said Nikolai Gritsayev, 41, a government worker in Kaliningrad who was one of several hundred people to turn out here. He said his salary had been sharply cut recently.

The Kremlin clamped down by using security services to put pressure on opposition groups and by offering minor concessions. In several cities, including Kaliningrad and Moscow, the authorities refused to allow protests in central locations, though people still tried.

State media gave little or no attention, and the Kremlin publicly ignored the protests. Two mainstream opposition parties, considered to be under Kremlin control, did not take part.

Russia has fared poorly in the financial crisis, and polls show that people are worried about unemployment and their ability to make ends meet. Even so, it does not appear that there is widespread backing for the ouster of Mr. Putin and his protégé, President Dmitri A. Medvedev. They remain somewhat insulated as dissatisfaction has focused on regional officials, who are typically appointed by the Kremlin.

Mr. Putin’s governing political party dominated regional elections this month, though it did suffer setbacks that could indicate displeasure on the economy.

Here in Kaliningrad, a Russian enclave between Lithuania and Poland that is geographically separate from the rest of the country, organizers had wanted to repeat their success of late January, when they amassed several thousand people in a protest against tax increases, cuts in social programs and utility costs.

The January demonstration in Kaliningrad seemed to surprise the Kremlin and regional leadership. The turnout suggested it might set off a nationwide antigovernment movement.

But opposition groups here have since fragmented, and a prominent one, Solidarity, canceled the Kaliningrad protest, saying that it feared violence.

Still, several hundred people gathered on a rain-soaked central square and demanded the resignation of the regional governor, Grigory Boos, who was appointed by the Kremlin.

“The authorities are scared of real protests,” said Svetlana Pogorelskaya, an opposition leader. “But there will be more protests and they will be larger and more intense. Here in Kaliningrad, we live in Europe. We are Europeans. Why should we live like slaves?”

Unlike in other cities, the police in Kaliningrad did not try to disperse or arrest protesters.

But at a news conference on Saturday afternoon, Mr. Boos accused protesters of refusing to meet for “substantive talks.”

“When your feelings are manifested in such a public way, it says something about how cultured someone is,” he said.

In Moscow, city officials did not permit a coalition of opposition groups to conduct a demonstration on Pushkin Square, a central intersection. As is often the case, the groups announced that they would hold it anyway.

Only a few hundred protesters turned out, and they were greeted by numerous police officers and journalists.

“We are doing this in accordance with the law,” said Sergey Udaltsov, a protest leader. “We do not fear anything. According to the Constitution, we have the right to be here to carry out our protest. Anything else is a gross violation. We appeal to the police to not prevent our march from occurring.”

Mr. Udaltsov then tried to enter a section of the square that was blocked by police officers, who immediately detained him, dragging him to a police bus. His colleagues shouted, “Shame!”

Others soon followed. The police arrested a few dozen people before the rally dispersed.

Michael Schwirtz reported from Kaliningrad, Russia, and Clifford J. Levy from Moscow.

[original]

spotted by RS

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