Under the watchful eyes of riot police, several hundred Russians lined up outside of a presidential administration office in central Moscow to peacefully deliver written petitions asking Vladimir Putin not to run in the next election.
Other Russian cities saw similar protests.
The next presidential election in Russia takes place in March 2018. Putin, 64, has not indicated whether he will run, although he is expected to join the race.
The “We’re sick of him” protest in Moscow Saturday was organized by the Open Russia movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky—once Russia’s richest man—who spent 10 years in jail for fraud before being released by Putin in 2013. Khodorkovsky claims the charge against him was politically motivated.
Anna, a 16-year-old Russian schoolgirl who hopes Putin takes note of the protests and decides not to run, joined hundreds of others in a line formed behind metal barriers, waiting to deliver their petitions.
“Nothing positive has happened in our country on his watch and I have the sense that things are getting worse, and that the main problem is the fact that those in power are the same,” Anna told Reuters.
She would prefer to see opposition politician Alexei Navalny as president. In March, Navalny helped organize the biggest anti-government protests since 2012, following which he spent 15 days in jail. More than 1,000 were arrested in the demonstrations.
The event Saturday was more peaceful, although dozens of police buses were stationed in the area, along with hundreds of riot police.
Russian media posted videos showing police in St. Petersburg detaining demonstrators where over 100 arrests were reported by activists, yet not officially confirmed.
Police reported that 250 people had lined up in Moscow, while Maria Baronova, an Open Russia activist, contended that a minimum of 500 people had delivered petitions.
According to Reuters, “Authorities have stepped up pressure on Open Russia in recent days. The General Prosecutor’s Office ruled on Wednesday that the activity of Open Russia’s British arm was ‘undesirable’ and accused it and other organizations of trying to discredit the election.”
Police searched Moscow offices of the Russian branch of Open Russia on Thursday. Activists claim that the authorities confiscated 100,000 blank petition forms which the foundation anticipated distributing.
On Friday, Russian TV channel REN TV broadcast a documentary about Open Russia activists, characterizing them as having criminal records, being drug addicts, and accusing them of developing close ties with the U.S. government.
Reuters reported that “Activists dismissed the program as a cheap stunt designed to discredit them, with at least one noting that REN TV had somehow obtained video footage stored in his mobile phone.”
The following news report detailed a massive protest that occured against Putin in March.
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