Moscow Protesters Defy Rally Ban

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This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.

Audio Transcript:

Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman and this is The World. Protestors in Russia are not standing down. Police and demonstrators clashed for a second day in Moscow. Protestors came out to denounce Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his ruling United Russia party after reports of fraud in Sunday's parliamentary elections. Police also detained some 200 people at a rally in St. Petersburg. Miriam Elder is a correspondent for The Guardian newspaper. She was at the rally in Moscow's Triamfalnaya Square earlier today. Elder says it wasn't just protestors in the streets. There were also many counter protestors.

Miriam Elder: Today, the square has been filled with thousands of activists from Nashi, the pro-Kremlin youth group and the opposition has been sort of sidelined and it's actually impossible to tell how many of them has turned out, but it's far less than turned out yesterday.

Werman: So would you describe this as a standoff or is there real tension between the two sides?

Elder: I wouldn't say it's a standoff just because the opposition is still outnumbered. You know, Nashi was created several years ago after pro democratic revolutions in the Ukraine and Georgetown precisely to counter any potential unrest in Russia as a whole. And so they've been here for over an hour shouting and beating on drums, and shouting "Medvedev Victory" and "Putin Russia," waving flags. So they've won today.

Werman: So who exactly is out on the streets protesting Putin and how would you describe the demographic as being? Employed, middle class?

Elder: Definitely middle class. I talked to a lawyer, a financial analyst, a man who owns his own business. And what I found most interesting is these are people who didn't come to the protests yesterday, they just heard about it via social networks, Facebook and the Russian version of Facebook, [speaking Russian]. And that's why they came out today.

Werman: Miriam, we hear that blogger and activist, Alexei Navalny, was arrested and got 15 days in jail today. Tell us who he is and what the reaction to his arrest has been.

Elder: He's a lawyer by training. We started this campaign about a year ago against corruption in Russia and he would point out specific cases of corruption, and it built into this real grassroots movement where people write in with cases for him to explore. And he runs a very popular blog where he talks about all that. And then about half a year ago he went on this radio program and he came out completely spontaneously he says with this term calling United Russia the party of crooks and thieves. And all the sudden it's become the rallying cry for anybody who's against this government.

Werman: Right, I'm just wondering does this descent extend outside of Moscow and St. Petersburg?

Elder: No, this isn't like a countrywide protest movement that's sweeping the nation as people at the protests, speakers at the protests said yesterday, this is a small step toward something that can potentially become bigger. But I think there is a recongition that this is not huge for Russia.

Werman: Miriam, I'm just still confused. What's bringing these people out onto the streets now? I mean it's not like a bread riot. What is the motivation right now?

Elder: People are really angry and the thing that kicks off these protests that we've seen the last couple of days are parliamentary elections that were held on Sunday. And the reports of falsification and violations particularly spreading through social networks like crazy because people have been videotaping and taking pictures of clear violations with their own cellphones. It's hard to deny the scale of falsification that happens. And so people have something concrete to be upset about.

Werman: But you're not sure where this descent may be headed. If it does fizzle out why do you think it may fizzle out?

Elder: I think because what we're seeing today is you know, the Kremlin has created these youth groups precisely to counter protests like this first of all. So you know, today this protest was a failure for the opposition. And number two, it's just really cold. You're never gonna have a Tahrir Square in December in Moscow.

Werman: Miriam Elder, a correspondent for The Guardian newspaper in London, speaking with us from the streets of Moscow. Thanks so much, Miriam.

Elder: Thank you.