Putin calls for "evolutionary" political reforms

Tens of thousands of Russians flooded streets in Moscow to protest against President Vladimir Putin’s rule in what appeared to be the biggest opposition rally yet.

An estimated 100,000 demonstrators marched through downtown Moscow on Tuesday, which was Russia Day, defying the authorities’ scare tactics designed to suppress the opposition even as Mr Putin warned against political upheavals. Police put the number of protesters at 15,000.

Several opposition leaders had been summoned to appear for interrogation on Tuesday to prevent them from joining the protest. A day earlier police raided their apartments seizing computer discs, documents and other materials.

On Friday, Mr Putin signed into law a controversial bill that increased fines on illegal protests and violations from 5,000 roubles to as much as 300,000 roubles ($9,000) for participants and 1 million roubles ($30,000) for organisers. Hundreds of people had been arrested in earlier protests in Moscow and other cities.

The websites of leading independent media that were reporting on the rally went down to hacker attacks. However, opposition activists said the pressure tactics boomeranged against the authorities, driving more people onto the streets. Smaller protest rallies were held in St. Petersburg and a dozen other Russian cities.

Demonstrators carried slogans that said “Russia Day Without Putin”, “Send Putin to Jail”, “Putin is a Thief” and “Russia will be Free”.

Even as the protest rally was in progress Mr Putin called for stability and “evolutionary” political reforms at a Kremlin ceremony to mark Russia Day.

“Any moves and decisions that may lead to social and political upheavals cannot be allowed,” he said.

A programme of action adopted at the rally demanded Mr Putin’s resignation and snap parliamentary and presidential elections. The “Free Russia Manifesto” called for enacting new electoral legislation to ensure “fair, transparent and competitive elections.” Then, a newly-elected parliament should work out a new Constitution, which would significantly limit presidential powers and give more authority to Parliament.

The opposition also demands that the presidential time in office should be limited to either one six-year term or to two four-year terms. Last month Mr Putin assumed power for a third presidential term. Opposition activists said they would set up a coordination council to implement the programme.

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