Opposition activists flock to central Moscow to commemorate slain politician Nemtsov and condemn constitution amendments
Thousands of people attended marches in Moscow and Saint Petersburg, on Saturday, to commemorate Russia's former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, who was murdered five years ago in the capital.
The memory of Nemtsov, a veteran politician who became a leading figure in the western-leaning opposition after the turn of the century, is a unifying point for various anti-Kremlin political groupings who are frequently at odds with one another.
Leaders of the march, who have described themselves as “pretty much the entire democratic spectrum” in Russia, expected that as many as 30,000 people would participate in the Moscow event, according to their application to the mayor’s office. The opposition-aligned "White Counter" monitor claimed 22,300 took part, while authorities estimated the number of attendees at 10,500. News outlet 'Znak' said 1,500 were at the Saint Petersburg commemoration.
The rallies were the first major Russian protests since September last year, and organizers hoped to revitalize the sort of anti-government sentiment which fed several marches in 2019.
The protesters carried both Russian national flags and others representing political movements, along with a big banner at the front of the crowd which read ‘The mastermind of the murder must be in jail’. They chanted anti-government slogans as they advanced through the streets, which were closed to traffic.
As well as demanding further investigation into the murder of Nemtsov, the protesters objected to planned amendments to the Russian constitution.
The proposed changes include a two-term lifetime limit for presidential office – as opposed to the current rule, which merely restricts consecutive terms – along with giving the parliament additional powers to appoint the prime minister and some of their cabinet members and make other changes to the way the country is governed.
The organisers of Saturday's demonstration see the proposals as an attempt “to usurp” power, and insist Nemtsov would have been opposed, if he were alive.Also on rt.com Tribute to Nemtsov: Thousands join Moscow march in memory of slain Russian politician
Before the demonstration opposition activists said they were surprised that the city government agreed to their suggestion for the march with no objections. Russian law says authorities may reject an application for a mass event, but they must offer an alternative. Opposition groups claim the government often abuses its authority, using various sorts of red tape to disrupt their plans.
Similar smaller-scale protest events were held in several other Russian cities, including Nizhny Novgorod, Yaroslavl, Oryol and Voronezh.
Nemtsov, who served as governor of the Nizhny Novgorod region in the 1990s before joining the national government, was a prominent liberal political figure in Russia. He was once touted as a possible successor to Boris Yeltsin as Russian President, but the fallout from the 1998 financial crash, which crippled the economy, damaged his prospects.
Out of power, Nemtsov was strongly critical of Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev's governments. He supported Ukraine's pro-Western course, hoping it would inspire a similar process in Russia and opposed Moscow's reabsorption of Crimea in 2014. Nemtsov was also openly critical of Chechen leader Ramzan Kadyrov, and often castigated Kremlin policy towards the republic. He objected to holding the 2014 Olympics in his native Sochi, and made a series of allegations concerning corruption in the preparations for the games. In 2009, he ran in the mayoral election in his home town.
While Nemstov remained important in liberal circles, by 2015 he was no longer a major national political figure. His status in the western-leaning opposition had been usurped by a younger generation of activists, such as Alexei Navalny. Meanwhile, many of his old allies were no longer active domestically. In a 2013 poll from independent pollster Levada, 6% of respondents approved of him. 48% disapproved & 46% didn't know anything about him. In 2014, Levada found he had the second highest "anti-rating" among prominent Russian political figures, after nationalist firebrand Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who leads the LDPR party.
Nemtsov was assassinated in central Moscow on the night of February 27, 2015. Two years later, five Chechen men were sentenced to lengthy jail terms for carrying out the killing, but the mastermind behind the hit was not identified by investigators.
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