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In Russia, rallies blast economic policies

By Irina Titova
Associated Press / March 21, 2010

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ST. PETERSBURG — Thousands rallied across Russia yesterday to denounce government economic policy and demand more freedom in a new challenge to the Kremlin reflecting increasing disillusionment and a growing potential for protests.

Many participants in the rallies, dubbed the Day of Wrath by the opposition, demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

About 1,000 people rallied in St. Petersburg holding placards saying “Putin’s team must resign!’’

Police did not intervene in the St. Petersburg protest, but they barred protesters chanting anti-Putin slogans from holding a rally in downtown Moscow. City police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said 70 people had been detained for taking part in the protest, which hadn’t been authorized by authorities.

Opposition activists have insisted they need no permission from authorities to hold rallies because the Russian Constitution guarantees the right of assembly.

The authorities allowed an earlier protest of about 1,000 in another section of the Russian capital to demand a reform of the Russian traffic police, which has been widely criticized for corruption and inefficiency.

An opposition rally in the far eastern port of Vladivostok drew about 1,500 people, and similar protests were to be held in many other cities throughout Russia yesterday.

Several thousand demonstrators gathered in the Baltic city of Kaliningrad despite an earlier decision by the opposition leaders to cancel the protest. They chanted “Government should resign!’’ and called for the ouster of the provincial governor, the Interfax news agency reported. Police didn’t intervene.