An anti-government demonstration planned for Saturday was drawing strong support in Russia, as supporters of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin staged their own rally in the capital and police announced hundreds more arrests in Tuesday night’s protest against corruption. More than 14,000 people have signed up for Saturday’s demonstration in Revolution Square to protest the recent legislative elections, according to a Facebook page announcing the event. Western monitors say the voting was flawed by ballot-stuffing and other irregularities.
As the number of people pledging to attend the demonstration grew, Moscow officials shut down Revolution Square for construction, the New Times Web site reported. The Web site published a photograph of barriers erected to close off the square, near a statue of Karl Marx, and quoted a city hall representative as saying the decision to work on the square was made Wednesday. The city has employed construction before to limit or prevent protests.
Also Wednesday, former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Russian authorities should nullify the election results because of fraud concerns. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s ruling United Russia party won with less than 50 percent of the vote, a far weaker showing than in past years.
In Moscow, meanwhile, some 3,000 pro-government demonstrators gathered in Pushkin Square to support United Russia. Also Wednesday, Police said nearly 600 anti-government protesters were arrested during a rally against the election irregularities on Tuesday night, twice as many as had been previously reported. Another 300 or so demonstrators were taken into custody Monday, including the country’s most prominent anti-corruption blogger, Alexei Navalny.
The opposition protesters who gathered at Triumfalnaya Square on Tuesday included veteran human-rights activists, longtime politicians and young people from the blogging social media generation. They faced off against busloads of pro-Kremlin youths brought in from outside Moscow, who banged drums and shouted “Russia, Russia, Russia” to demonstrate their desire to preserve the status quo.
Putin has dismissed accusations of corruption within United Russia. He has promised to shake up the government after the March presidential elections, in which he is heavily favored. But Gorbachev, whose reform policies brought new freedoms to the Soviet Union and eventually helped trigger its dissolution, said reports of electoral misconduct in last weekend’s elections were substantial enough to require immediate action.