Putin’s hard line against protests to be tested

Jun 8, 2012, 4:53 PM

Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) – Helmeted riot police round up hundreds of protesters, including some whose only apparent crime is wearing white ribbons of opposition. A teacher who spoke out about election rigging is dragged into court and fined. Now a new law signed by President Vladimir Putin on Friday raises fines for participating in unauthorized protests 150-fold, to nearly the average annual salary in Russia.

Putin has cracked down on the opposition since returning to the presidency, and he seems to be betting that by threatening demonstrators with prison time and harsh fines he can quash the street protests that have posed an unprecedented challenge to his 12-year rule.

Putin said that the law is designed to safeguard Russians from “radicalism.”

“In guaranteeing citizens’ right to express their opinion, including in street rallies, society must protect other citizens, the general public, from radicalism,” he said in televised remarks. He added, however, that the law may be amended if necessary.

His strategy faces a major test on Tuesday when the opposition plans its first mass demonstration since he began his third presidential term on May 7.

Some opposition leaders contend that the tough line will help their cause by fueling anger and bringing more people out for next week’s protest. Others say the repression will scare away the middle-class protesters who turned out in the tens of thousands for peaceful demonstrations this winter.

Putin, for his part, is refusing any talks with the opposition.

“He understands only one language, the language of force, and therefore he perceives any normal discussion and any rational compromise as personal weakness,” said Yevgenia Chirikova, an environmental activist who has campaigned against Kremlin-backed road construction that is destroying a forest outside Moscow.

Chirikova and Ilya Yashin, who recently spent 15 days in jail for leading unsanctioned protests, were among a group of opposition leaders who met Thursday in Moscow to discuss the implications of the new law, which jacks up fines to 300,000 rubles ($9,000).

Yashin tried to ease worries, saying protest leaders would collect donations for those punished, as was done within hours when St. Petersburg teacher Tatyana Ivanova was fined 30,000 rubles ($1,000) last week. Ivanova was found guilty of damaging the reputation of an education department official she had accused of pressuring her and other poll workers to falsify the December parliamentary vote.

The anti-Putin protests broke out after the December election, which observers said was riddled with fraud in favor of Putin’s party, and continued in the run-up to the March presidential vote. As many as 100,000 people turned out in the frigid cold for demonstrations demanding free elections, and the streets of Moscow rang with cries of “Russia Without Putin” and “Putin Is a Thief.”

Although he was denied a majority in Moscow, Putin won the election to return to the Kremlin post he had held from 2000 to 2008 before moving into the prime minister’s office to avoid violating a constitutional ban on more than two consecutive terms.

With the election over, the protest movement seemed to fade.

But on the eve of Putin’s inauguration, an opposition march and rally drew tens of thousands, far more than either the organizers or the police had expected. The demonstration turned violent after police restricted access to the square where the rally was to be held. Bottles and pieces of asphalt were hurled at police, who struck back by beating protesters with truncheons and detaining more than 400. Some demonstrators were dragged away by their hair. Opposition leaders claim the clash was provoked by pro-Kremlin thugs.

In the days that followed, police chased opposition activists around the city, detaining hundreds.

Then the crackdown eased, as the authorities allowed the opposition to set up camp on a leafy boulevard. But there were strings attached: The organizers could not put up placards or make political demands, since that would technically turn the camp into an unsanctioned protest.

The authorities tolerated the camp for about a week before getting a court to rule that the activists were creating a mess in the neighborhood, giving police the legal right to disperse them.

The anti-protest legislation also provides police with new powers against such Occupy-style camps. “Large-scale public gatherings” can be banned and the organizers fined if they disrupt public order.

In a Levada poll released Thursday, 65 percent said they expected the protests to continue, although they differed on how likely the protests were to intensify or spread. The poll, conducted May 25-29 among 1,604 people across Russia, has a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.

The bill was rushed through the Kremlin-controlled parliament this week in an effort to get it in place before Tuesday’s big protest.

Some opposition leaders had held out hope that Putin would refuse to sign it. Others, however, had said they had no illusions, pointing to a comment by Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov after the violence on the eve of the inauguration. Protesters who hurt riot police, he said, “should have their livers smeared on the asphalt.”

It was the kind of language that Putin likes.

___

Irina Titova in St. Petersburg contributed to this report.

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

World News

Ukrainian servicemen carry the coffin with the remains of Army Col. Oleksander Makhachek during a f...
Associated Press

As Ukraine loses troops, how long can it keep up the fight?

ZHYTOMYR (AP) — As soon as they had finished burying a veteran colonel killed by Russian shelling, the cemetery workers readied the next hole. Inevitably, given how quickly death is felling Ukrainian troops on the front lines, the empty grave won’t stay that way for long. Col. Oleksandr Makhachek left behind a widow, Elena, and […]
20 days ago
(Instagram photo/@Clayton.Wolfe)...
Wills Rice

Arizona realtor announces new listing on ‘the top-floor’ of Mount Everest

Arizona realtor Clayton Wolfe scaled the treacherous 29,035-foot heights of Mount Everest in Nepal and announced a new listing at the summit.
21 days ago
(Photo by: Jonathan Wiggs/Boston Globe/Getty Images)...
Associated Press

‘Tiger King’ star ‘Doc’ Antle arrested for money laundering charges

“Tiger King” star “Doc” Antle was arrested by the FBI and expected to appear in court Monday to face federal money laundering charges.
21 days ago
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)...
Associated Press

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey in Israel for talks with political and business leaders

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey is in Israel for five days of talks with political and business leaders of the Middle Eastern country.
27 days ago
A man rides a bicycle in front of a building ruined by shelling in Borodyanka, on the outskirts of ...
Associated Press

Russia takes steps to bolster army, tighten grip on Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin issued an order Wednesday to fast track Russian citizenship for residents of parts of southern Ukraine largely held by his forces, while lawmakers in Moscow passed a bill to strengthen the stretched Russian army. Putin’s decree applying to the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions could allow Russia to […]
1 month ago
FILE - McDonald's restaurant is seen in the center of Dmitrov, a Russian town 75 km., (47 miles) no...
Associated Press

De-Arching: McDonald’s to sell Russia business, exit country

McDonald’s is closing its doors in Russia, ending an era of optimism and increasing the country’s isolation over its war in Ukraine. The Chicago burger giant confirmed Monday that it is selling its 850 restaurants in Russia. McDonald’s said it will seek a buyer who will employ its 62,000 workers in Russia, and will continue […]
1 month ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
Putin’s hard line against protests to be tested