Thousands of Russians defied Sunday the Kremlin demonstrating across the country against corruption at the call of the opponent Alexey Navalny, arrested in Moscow as more than a hundred of his supporters.
In the capital alone, the police itself counted at least 7,000 people on one of the main arteries leading to the Kremlin, making it one of the most massive unauthorized demonstrations organized in recent years.
Alexei Navalny, who intends to face Vladimir Putin during the presidential election scheduled for early 2018, called for these rallies after publishing a report accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of being at the head of a real estate empire financed by oligarchs.
This 11 million-fold film investigation, seen on YouTube, did not provoke any reaction from the authorities, as the others published by the organization of Mr. Navalny, which has established itself as the number one opponent in the Kremlin Denouncing the corruption of the elites.
In spite of the prohibition decreed by the authorities – of which the opponent disputes the legality – several thousand people have converged at his call in several tens of cities in Russia of which in Moscow on Tverskaya street, one of the main avenues Of the capital.
“We have all seen the film, it gives specific examples of corruption,” explained Nikolai Moisei, a 26-year-old worker. “They fly and they lie, but people remain patient. This demonstration is a first impulse for people to start acting.”
Independent counting was difficult because Mr. Navalny asked his followers to walk along the avenue, on his sidewalks and back and forth, instead of forming a procession.
In Pushkin Square, on the route, thousands of protesters were gathered, said AFP. Numerous arrests were made and the police used pepper gas to disperse the crowd.
“Russia without Putin!”, “Freedom!”, “Shame!” The protesters chanted.
In total, the police arrested at least 130 demonstrators, said the organization OVD-Info, specializing in the monitoring of demonstrations. “The arrests continue,” the NGO added on Twitter.
Mr. Navalny himself was taken away by the police as soon as he left the subway, announced his spokesman Kira Iarmych on Twitter.
“Everything is fine for me,” the opponent wrote on his own account, calling for continued protest. “The issue today is the fight against corruption,” he said.
– ‘Tired of corruption’ –
Despite the important mobilization in the center of Moscow, the national television stations were silent on this subject.
“The whole country is tired of corruption,” sighed 50-year-old Natalia Demidova. “Medvedev should have been sacked in view of what was revealed”.
In all, Alexey Navalny had called for demonstrations in 99 cities of Russia, but in 72 of them, the local authorities had banned these gatherings, sometimes invoking the cleaning of the road or the organization of concerts.
According to reports, the local authorities have also tried to discourage students from participating in the demonstrations, even in some cities.
In St. Petersburg, the country’s second-largest city, about 4,000 people gathered despite the authorities’ ban and a massive police presence, an AFP journalist said.
“We are tired of the lies, we have to do something,” said Sergei Timofyev, 23.
In Siberia, local media reported about 1,500 demonstrators in Krasnoyarsk and Omsk and 2,000 people gathered in Novosibirsk.
Alexei Navalny, a lawyer by training, has for years denounced the corruption of elites in Russia on his blog. He obtained in October 2013 the unexpected score of 27.2% in the municipal election in Moscow but his candidacy for the next presidential is likely to be hampered by his recent conviction to five years suspended prison for embezzlement.