Protests across Rus­sia im­pugn Putin on pres­i­dent’s birth­day

Ral­lies called to al­low op­po­si­tion fig­ure Navalny to run for top of­fice

The Washington Post Sunday - - DISABLED AMERICA - BY VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV AND IRINA TI­TOVA

moscow — In a chal­lenge to Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on his 65th birth­day, pro­test­ers ral­lied across Rus­sia on Satur­day, heed­ing op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny’s call to pres­sure author­i­ties into let­ting him en­ter the pres­i­den­tial race.

In Moscow, sev­eral hun­dred pro­test­ers, mostly stu­dents, gath­ered at Pushkin­skaya Square down­town, wav­ing Rus­sian flags and chant­ing “Rus­sia will be free!” and “Let Navalny run!” Po­lice warned them that the rally wasn’t per­mit­ted and urged them to dis­perse, but of­fi­cers let the protest con­tinue for hours with­out try­ing to break it up.

Mostly teenage pro­test­ers later walked down Moscow’s Tver­skaya Street to­ward the Krem­lin, shout­ing “Putin, go away!” and “Fu­ture with­out Putin!”

Po­lice lines blocked them from ap­proach­ing Red Square, and they turned back. Sev­eral hours later, some made a new at­tempt to march on the Krem­lin, shout­ing “Putin thief!” and briefly at­tempt­ing to block traf­fic.

“We bat­tle for Rus­sia to be free from Pu­tin­ism. Be­cause the power we have now is feu­dal, we have no free­dom of speech, no free­dom of choice,” pro­tester Stepan Fesov said.

The author­i­ties’ de­ci­sion to re­frain from break­ing up the Moscow protest con­trasted more force­ful re­sponses to pre­vi­ous Moscow ral­lies called by Navalny, when po­lice de­tained more than 1,000 de­mon­stra­tors. Navalny him­self is serv­ing a 20-day jail term for call­ing for an ear­lier un­ap­proved protest.

Po­lice also did not in­ter­vene at first with a rally in St. Peters­burg, Putin’s home town, where nearly 2,000 gath­ered at the Field of Mars park and then marched across the city chant­ing “Rus­sia with­out Putin!” and “Putin, re­tire!”

Shortly af­ter, how­ever, po­lice broke up the demon­stra­tion, de­tain­ing nearly 40 af­ter some tried to break through po­lice lines. Po­lice said those de­tained were re­leased and will face fines for block­ing traf­fic.

Navalny’s head­quar­ters called protests in 80 cities. Most were not per­mit­ted by author­i­ties, but po­lice largely re­frained from dis­pers­ing the ral­lies, which drew from a few dozen to a few hun­dred peo­ple.

Navalny has de­clared his in­ten­tion to run for pres­i­dent in the March 2018 elec­tion, even though a crim­i­nal con­vic­tion that he calls po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated bars him from run­ning. The 41-year-old an­ti­cor­rup­tion crusader has or­ga­nized waves of protests this year, raising the pres­sure on the Krem­lin.

Putin has not yet an­nounced whether he will seek re­elec­tion, but he is widely ex­pected to run.

ANDREY VOLKOV/REUTERS

Sup­port­ers of Rus­sian op­po­si­tion leader Alexei Navalny protest Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on Satur­day night in Moscow. Po­lice largely al­lowed the na­tion­wide ral­lies to run their course with­out in­ter­rup­tion.

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