Gasoline Protests Hit 50 Cities

Itar-TassDrivers protesting higher gasoline prices Saturday on Bolotnaya Ploshchad beneath a statue of painter Ilya Repin.
Motorists in about 50 cities across the country protested rising gasoline prices Saturday and called on the government to take measures to punish producers of substandard fuel.

Media reports said the protests had anywhere from a few dozen participants, including in Yekaterinburg, Kaliningrad, and Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, to as many as 200 in Moscow. The demonstrations, organized by the Freedom of Choice driver's movement, involved lines of cars driving through city centers with their emergency lights on and empty fuel canisters taped to their roofs.

The protests came amid heightened concerns over spiraling inflation, which threatens to exceed a yearly 15 percent this month, and world oil prices. U.S. oil hit a record of just over $135 a barrel last week.

"The state should do more to hold people responsible for the production and sale of substandard gasoline, including prison terms for the heads of companies producing and selling it," the driver's movement wrote on its web site. The group also calls for cutting the tax on car fuel to 40 percent, from the current 70 percent, and bringing down the retail price for gasoline to 15 rubles (63 cents) per liter, from 22 rubles now.

Vyacheslav Lysakov, head of the driver's movement, called for the protests to be peaceful and to avoid conflicts with law enforcement officers, RIA-Novosti reported.

Protesters banging empty fuel cans and waving placards turned out on Bolotnaya Ploshchad, Gazeta.ru reported, despite the rainy weather. The protest was approved by city authorities, and police nearly outnumbered protesters, Interfax reported.

Some of the other protests were hampered by local authorities, however. In St. Petersburg, traffic police were already waiting at the agreed meeting place, participants told RIA-Novosti.

"They blocked some of the cars, started writing down our license plate numbers and threatened drivers with a trip to the local precinct," one protester told the news agency, adding that the demonstration had not been cleared with City Hall.

Some 30 cars took part in a protest in Nizhny Novgorod, but their intended route through the city center was blocked after the local authorities said the cars could disrupt citywide events celebrating the last day of school, RIA-Novosti said. The drivers parked their cars in a "picket" along the Volga River with signs attached to the roofs.

In Krasnodar, a protest was canceled after local Interior Ministry officials told the organizers that it could disrupt the public order, including the movement of ambulances and fire trucks.

"The police suggested that Krasnodar residents not participate in the demonstration, and today it didn't happen," Ilya Shakalov, spokesman for the local Interior Ministry, told RIA-Novosti.

MT, Reuters