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Anger at Putin over economy

February 01, 2009|Alex Rodriguez

VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA — Russians from a broad spectrum of political movements protested in several cities Saturday, unified by their discontent over how Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has struggled to gird the country against the global financial crisis.

In the Far East port city of Vladivostok, more than 2,000 demonstrators marched along downtown streets chanting, "Putin, resign!" Anti-government rallies in Vladivostok in mid-December were brutally dispersed by Russian riot police, but on Saturday demonstrators were allowed to march.

In Moscow, scores of protesters took to the streets to denounce the government's management of the crisis. About 1,000 Communist Party loyalists were allowed to rally behind a police cordon, but opposition activists linked to Russia's beleaguered liberal movement were denied permission to demonstrate and had to break up into smaller groups to evade police.

At another Communist protest in Novosibirsk, in Siberia, demonstrators criticized the government's handling of the economy and called for Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin's ouster. A Communist rally in the Ural Mountain city of Yekaterinburg drew about 1,500 Russians.

The protests across Russia reflected a burgeoning dissatisfaction with the Kremlin's handling of the economic crisis, which has left thousands of Russians jobless and has sent the ruble plummeting in value.

In his eight years as president, Putin engineered an economic resurgence thanks to record oil prices that jump-started the country's energy-exports-dependent economy. But with oil prices falling below $40 a barrel and the Russian economy projected to contract this year, he has faced increasing criticism from citizens.

"Our government is only helping really rich people -- the 5% of the population that we call oligarchs," said city government worker Dmitry Demidin, 22, huddling with other Communist followers in Vladivostok. "But they're forgetting about the rest of us, the regular people who are enduring a very hard life during this crisis."

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party amassed thousands of Russians in Moscow, Vladivostok and other cities in support of Putin and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

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ajrodriguez@tribune.com

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