Protesters stage rally against Putin in Saint Petersburg a week before elections


Vladimir Putin delivers a speech on Thursday during a rally with his supporters at Luzhniki Stadium in Moscow.



Nearly 4,000 opponents of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin staged a rally in his home town of Saint Petersburg today, according to the Associated Press.

A week before presidential elections in which Putin is the widely favored candidate, protesters chanted slogans including “Putin is a thief,” the news agency said, adding that police were present in force but that no arrests were reported.

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There has been widespread protest in Russia — the largest since the collapse of the Soviety Union 20 years ago — since December’s parliamentary elections, which drew accusations of voter fraud.

The AP said today’s rally drew a smaller crowd than many of the protests staged since then, some of which have drawn more than 50,000, according to the news agency, which said that, despite Russia’s recent prosperity, the public has grown unhappy with a repressive political climate for which the blame Putin.

"I came here because I want fair elections ... We have monarchy and not democracy in our country, and we should be honest about that at least, and say that we have monarchy," one of the protesters, 40-year-old lawyer Irina Mitrophanova, was quoted as saying.

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The AP said it was unclear whether any of Putin’s putative opponents in the March 4 vote would benefit from this discontent as the protest movement has in large measure been supported by Western liberals.

According to the Irish broadcaster RTE, today’s rally was led by the anticorruption blogger and opposition figure Alexei Navalny

"The strategy is very simple. Vote for anyone against Putin ... These are not elections ... This is the reappointment of Putin, one more step towards being a Tsar," Navalny was quoted as telling reporters ahead of the march