MOSCOW (BNO NEWS) — Tens of thousands of Russians on Saturday participated in rallies across the country both in support and against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, local news agencies reported.
Protesters gathered in downtown Moscow to express their opposition to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s expected return to the Kremlin next month, despite the Artic-like cold that has gripped the capital. The protests came exactly a month before the March 4 presidential polls.
A crowd, estimated at approximately 120,000 by organizers but given as a little over 35,000 by police, chanted “Russia without Putin!” People of all ages and political affiliations protested against Putin, who was barred by the Constitution from standing for a third consecutive term in 2008 and handed over power to his hand-picked successor Dmitry Medvedev.
Rallies also took place in about 30 other Russian cities. Police estimated that 5,000 people rallied against Putin in St. Petersburg, but local organizers put the number at more than 20,000.
Opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny, the man who instigated the current protests, attended the rally but did not speak. No arrests were reported on Saturday amid a heavy police presence, RIA Novosti reported.
Meanwhile, Putin supporters rallied to urge an end to the protests and demanded political stability. Police said 140,000 people were at the pro-Putin rally in Moscow, but a RIA Novosti correspondent said attendance was far lower.
Reports on Friday said state employees were being coerced into attending the rally, and Putin acknowledged that this was possible. Russian news agencies said police figures of the number of protesters were believed to be false.
State-run pollster VTSIOM said on Friday that support for Putin is at 52 percent, with Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic party head Vladimir Zhirinovsky tying for second with 8 percent. A poll by the independent Levada Center, however, said that a mere 49 percent of Russians believed the elections would be fair.
On December 4, Russia held parliamentary elections which many Russian voters and international observers said were marred by large-scale fraud. The ruling United Russia party won more votes than any of the other three parties, but it still suffered a significant drop from the two-thirds constitutional majority it has enjoyed for the past four years.
Throughout December, huge demonstrations took place across the country to criticize the elections which they claim were rigged in favor of Vladimir Putin’s governing United Russia party. Some of the demonstrations were the largest since the fall of the Soviet Union.