Thwarted March Leaves Opposition Frustrated

Thwarted March Leaves Opposition Frustrated

Published: December 19, 2012 (Issue # 1740)

The St. Petersburg authorities clamped down hard Saturday on the March of Freedom, despite having authorized the event.

Hundreds who came to protest President Vladimir Putin’s rule, electoral fraud, anti-democratic laws and politically motivated arrests were made to walk on narrow sidewalks on Kronverskaya Naberezhnaya and Troitsky Bridge under the threat of arrest, with policemen walking next to them, convoy style.

Just before the bridge, the OMON riot police blocked the way of an estimated 1,000-plus protesters carrying a banner reading “Freedom Is Not Given, Freedom Is Taken,” who attempted to walk along the road section of the bridge, while a police officer issued warnings into a megaphone, saying that those who didn’t move onto the sidewalk would be detained.

Eventually, the marchers crossed the bridge walking in a long line on the sidewalk while the policemen walked on the road, preventing individuals from stepping aside.

Speaking on Tuesday, Andrei Pivovarov, a member of the Opposition’s Coordination Council and one of the March of Freedom’s organizers, said that City Hall had broken its promises.

“The agreement was that if more than 300 people turned out, we would walk on the road, but in practice it turned into negotiations with the OMON, who said that they had orders not to let anybody walk [on the road],” he said. “It was deception on their part; it showed once again that there’s no point in making agreements with them.”

People were asked to gather near Gorkovskaya metro station by 2 p.m., with the march scheduled for 2:30 p.m., but a City Hall official on the scene said they should not start moving until 3:15 p.m. A number of older people reportedly left at that point because of the freezing weather. Temperatures dropped down to minus 12 degrees Celsius on Saturday.

When the protesters reached the Field of Mars, they were told to disperse by a police officer, as no stationary rally had been planned or authorized for the end of the march.

City Hall authorized the March of Freedom after initially rejecting it on Dec. 10, leaving only four days for the organizers to publicize it. The authorities refused to sanction the suggested route, moving the protest to the Petrograd Side instead of the central district.

Some activists speculated that the march, which was to mark the anniversary of the first massive anti-fraud demo in Moscow last year, might be the last such protest in St. Petersburg, especially in view of the new local bill on holding rallies, which is even more radical than the national law passed in the wake of mass protests in June, and will essentially ban protests in the center of the city, if passed.

“Disappointment is high, up to the point that some said they would not go to such rallies anymore, that’s what [the authorities] have been successful in achieving,” Pivovarov said.

“The commonly held opinion is that the organizers should not make such concessions to City Hall anymore. In the future, they might choose to hold unauthorized rallies instead.”

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