ROAR: “New format” of protest rally unsuccessfully tested in Moscow

Moscow police have dispersed another “Day of Wrath” rally staged by opposition groups and human rights activists against the Moscow city authorities.

On August 12, police detained more than 30 participants of the unauthorized rally on Tverskaya Square. The rally attracted 70 people and more than 150 reporters, according to police sources.

Opposition movements have said they plan to hold “Day of Wrath” events once a month to express discontent against with the work of the mayor’s office. More people were expected to come this time to protest against the city government’s inability to protect Muscovites’ health amid heat and smog.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov has been criticized recently for being slow to return to Moscow from a holiday as the city was darkened by smoke from wildfires in Moscow Region. However, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told the mayor that he had been right “to cut short the leave and return to the city.”

Among those arrested near the mayor’s office were the organizers of the rally and leaders of the Left Front opposition group Sergey Udaltsov and Konstantin Kosyakin, as well as prominent human rights activist Lev Ponomarev.

Ponomarev, 68, was taken to hospital from a police station after he suffered an increase in blood pressure. He told Interfax he did not understand the reasons for his detention. “I just stood talking with journalists,” he noted. “I did not hold posters or chant slogans.”

Media say that opposition groups tried to launch “a new format of protest rallies” in Moscow. Now they want to use not only the 31st of a month, but also the 12th day, referring to Article 12 of the constitution, which guarantees the citizens’ right to independent local self-government, Vremya Novostey daily said.

“However, the Moscow authorities have nipped this new format of street protests in the bud,” the paper noted. At the same time, Udaltsov and Ponomarev failed to persuade their supporters to come to the statue of Yury Dolgoruky, it added.

As a result, a group of “desperate dissenters,” was quickly dispersed by police “which, as usual, outnumbered protesters,” the paper said. “There were hundreds of law enforcement officers at Tverskaya Square, and the opposition had no chance to hold a noticeable rally,” it added. “What happened near the Mayor’s office yesterday evening could even hardly be called an action,” the paper said.

It was clear before the start of the “Day of Wrath” that the opposition would lose in the battle with the Moscow authorities, the daily said, adding that the square was surrounded by police in advance. “Police officers tried to control every meter of their territory,” it noted.

The dissenters that came to the square were detained before they were able to unfurl their posters or chant their slogans, the paper said. Ponomarev, however, persuaded the journalists that there was no rally or picket on the square and people simply came to “stand here,” it added.

However, Ponomarev himself did not simply stand, but granted interviews, saying that “the authorities are using rude and illegal methods,” the daily said. After that statement, the human rights activist was detained.

Another daily, Kommersant, described the rally against the mayor’s office “as a shadow of people’s wrath.” The event ended before it properly began, it said. The main demands during the series of events on the “Day of Wrath” are the mayor’s resignation and the return of the direct elections of regional heads, the paper noted.

However, the organizers of the event promised to gather at the same place on September 12, the daily said.

During the previous rally that took place on June 28, the opposition protested against corruption, the destruction of historic buildings and the new general plan of the city’s development, Gazeta.ru online newspaper said.

This time, it accused the city authorities “in inactivity during the emergency situation caused by catastrophic wildfires in Central Russia,” it added. And “Day of Wrath” may become an irritant for the Moscow authorities similar to opposition rallies held on 31st day of the month held on Triumfalnaya Square the paper said.

Many of protesters who came to the mayor’s office on August 12 regularly take part in unauthorized rallies on Triumfalnaya, city police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told Interfax. He added that police “were acting within the limits of the law” and were only using force “when necessary.”

Meanwhile, Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov and governor of Moscow Region Boris Gromov have exchanged criticism over mishandling of the current situation caused by wildfires and smog.

Luzhkov demanded on August 10 that those responsible for the peat bog fires be punished. A special plan was adopted following the 2002 peat bog wildfires, Luzhkov noted, adding that it had not been properly fulfilled. The wildfires are still a normal situation in Yegoryevsk and Shatura, the mayor said, referring to districts in the Moscow Region.

Gromov said on August 12 he was surprised that “some leaders of Moscow City try to bluff against the backdrop of the difficult natural situation and exploit these difficulties,” Itar-Tass said. He added his government had allegedly been accused of the “inability to take and implement decisions in the struggle against wildfires, especially peat bog fires.”

Speaking at a meeting of the crisis center on fighting the blazes, Gromov stressed that Moscow also has a host of problems, including those caused by forest and industrial blazes, “which we take closely to heart and are ready to render aid and support in fighting.”

Relations between Luzhkov and Gromov have never been ideal, observers say. However, the governor called on the mayor’s office to work “in a unified front” and to “consolidate people at this difficult time.”

Sergey Borisov,
Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT