ARKHANGELSK, Russia (Reuters) - Thousands of angry people demonstrated in a northwestern Russian city on Sunday against the high cost of living and demanded that the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin quits.
About 4,000 protesters braved biting cold to hold an unauthorized rally at a huge Lenin monument in Arkhangelsk’s main square, chanting: “Down with this useless state power” and “Down with United Russia.”
“We do not believe the authorities” and “We demand a pay rise,” read some of the posters. Red hammer-and-sickle Communist Party flags dominated the scene.
The large rally was similar to recent protests held in Vladivostok in Russia’s far east and in Kaliningrad in the west.
Demands by protesters across Russia vary from lower household bills to the abolition of transport taxes, lower imported car duties and demands to halt a paper mill at the pristine Lake Baikal.
Last Saturday, the opposition held around 50 rallies on a national “Day of Anger.” Kremlin critics plan to hold a new series of protests on March 31 and May 1.
“Putin and Medvedev, along with all deputies and bureaucrats and governors, must be sacked, because they have deprived us of everything, because we cannot afford paying for municipal services,” pensioner Nina Kozhukhova, aged 70, told Reuters.
At a past rally, she was knocked down by riot police and hurled into a police van. But Kozhukhova was determined to fight. “That’s the limit, we are fed up with this lawlessness,” she said. “I do not believe United Russia because they have plundered us and gave all we had to corrupt bureaucrats.”
Former president Putin, still widely seen as Russia’s paramount leader, and President Dmitry Medvedev, seen as his handpicked successor, have launched efforts to tackle social and economic issues more efficiently.
This month’s local elections showed support for Putin’s ruling United Russia party had fallen since the start of the economic crisis, which ended the nation’s 10-year oil-fueled economic boom, cut wages and drove unemployment above 9 percent.
The rally exposed some divisions among the protesters, but analysts say that despite the different slogans protesters were united in their anger at the ruling United Russia party.
A group of men dressed in black manhandled supporters of the liberal opposition movement Solidarity as they tried to unfold their posters and orange flags. Policemen did not interfere.
And communist members at the rally refused to give Solidarity members the floor.
“We will not allow this orange plague here in the north,” local Communist Party chief Alexei Novikov told the rally.
As most communists left the rally, some 1,500 supporters of liberals and leftist youth organizations marched separately along the main street, chanting: “Putin to be brought to justice,” and “United Russia to be thrown into a rubbish bin.”
Writing by Dmitry Solovyov; Editing by Diana Abdallah
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