MOSCOW, December 14 (RIA Novosti) – Russian opposition activists have officially recalled their request to hold a rally in downtown Moscow on Saturday, but thousands of people are still expected to show up despite police warnings.
The retraction of the request was announced by City Hall on Friday and confirmed to RIA Novosti by one of the protest’s organizers, opposition activist and former lawmaker Gennady Gudkov.
“We’re just playing it safe,” said Gudkov, a member of the left-of-center A Just Russia party.
If the request, which had been declined by city authorities, had not been officially retracted, but the rally proceeded anyway, organizers could have faced legal troubles; now that they have retracted the request, they should have no legal liability for any public gatherings on Saturday, Gudkov explained.
He said he would go to the event’s initially proposed site, Lubyanka Square, “in a private capacity,” echoing a call voiced earlier by him and other organizers and opposition leaders.
As of Friday evening, about 1,700 people had signed up for the rally on Facebook and 2,200 on its Russian rival Vkontakte despite the lack of permission from city officials.
Earlier this week, organizers and city authorities failed to find a compromise regarding location: City Hall refused to let the rally end at Lubyanka Square, not far from the Kremlin in downtown Moscow, while organizers turned down all the proposed alternative routes.
City police issued a televised warning on the national evening news Friday, informing citizens that they would crack down on any unsanctioned events the following day; however, local press cited one police official as saying that people would be allowed to lay flowers at a memorial to victims of political repressions on Lubyanka Square, home to the headquarters of the KGB’s main successor, the Federal Security Service, or FSB.
In May, the opposition staged an unsanctioned mass “stroll,” which ended without any conflicts with police. However, that event took place before a new draconian law on rallies was passed in June, making it easier for police and other security officials to crack down on any public events held without official sanction.