Up to 30,000 people have marched “for fair elections” in Russia’s western city of St. Petersburg. They joined thousands of other pro- and anti-government protesters who marched for free and democratic presidential elections all across the country.
The mass protests in St. Petersburg started in the afternoon with people gathering in the city center. Activists carried flags and banners bearing such slogans as “For fair elections,” and “I will not give up.” Some people were chanting “Freedom.”
According to witnesses there were so many people that police were asked to broaden their cordons.
The peaceful march has just ended with a rally. People gathered around a stage where journalists, politicians and activists made speeches. Police estimated the numbers at 15,000 while the organizers put the figure at 30,000.
The protest passed off peacefully with no reports of violence.
Organizers set up tables offering hot tea so that people could warm themselves.
Anti- and pro-government rallies also took place in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and the Siberian capital, Novosibirsk, where several thousand turned up.
Officials estimated that up to 2,000 people gathered at the main post office in Ekaterinburg’s downtown. Organizers, on the other hand, reported about 7,000.
The rally was described as “bright and quick.” Some activists delivered their speeches as costumed performances.
Not far from the anti-government rally, others were holding a pro-government demonstration. It was not clear who its organizers were.
In the center of Novosibirsk, officials estimated the crowd at less than 1,000. The march and sanctioned protest for fair elections both passed off peacefully. However there are reports that two activists were facing civil charges for being among a group which gathered outside government building. Police said it was illegal to gather there without permission from the city authorities.
Anti- and pro-government protests and marches were planned in about 30 cities all across Russia with the largest turnouts in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
In Moscow the event, which started with a march down Yakimanka Street and continued with a rally at Bolotnaya Square, attracted at least 34,000 people, according to estimates. Other sources put the figures higher, at up to 50,000.
A pro-government demonstration also took place in Moscow. More than 100,000 people gathered on Poklonnaya Hill, according to police reports. Supporters of the Patriots of Russia movement and several other groups were protesting what they call “the so-called Orange mood in the country” and to “show people we have a lot to lose.”
“What we are seeing is the return of interesting politics to Russia,” journalist Ivan Zasoursky told RT. Zasoursky sees the protests across the country as a “happy sign,” as “a lot of educated, opinionated people are coming back to politics, and I think Russian politics will be much smarter and much more interesting” as a result.
“Politics has come alive” in Russia, says Martin McCauley, Russia expert at the University of London.
Speaking of possible future political protests in Russia, McCauley predicts an even larger demonstration in March. “A very large rally is promised for March 11, a week after the presidential election. Presumably that will be the larger than this one,” he told RT. But he added that “nobody wants a revolution.”
“What the vast majority wants is a better standard of living, and to participate in how the country develops,” McCauley added.