1,000 Rally Over Soaring Fuel Prices

MTAbout 1,000 transportation-sector workers protesting rising fuel prices near the White House on Wednesday. Among other things, protesters demanded that the government regulate fuel prices at the gathering, one of the largest manifestations of discontent o
About 1,000 transportation sector workers gathered in central Moscow on Wednesday to protest rising fuel costs and demand that the government regulate prices for gasoline, diesel and jet fuel.

The event, organized by the Russian Road Transport Trade Union, was held across the Moscow River from the White House and was one of this year's biggest manifestations of discontent over rising prices. OMON riot police and Interior Ministry forces were out in force for the protest, which lasted about an hour.

"An oil-rich country like Russia should make monopolists responsible for collusion and the endless rise of fuel prices, which are threatening the survival of many other industries," Viktor Mokhnachyov, president of the Russian Road Transport Trade Union, said from the stage as the crowd cheered and waved miniature flags with the slogan "No to Outrageous Fuel Prices!"

Unexpectedly fast consumer-price growth forced the government last month to revise its annual inflation estimate to 11.8 percent, from the previous 10.5 percent.

Among the protesters' demands, listed in a letter to the government, was state regulation of fuel prices, which the demonstrators said were artificially raised by oil companies, including state-controlled Rosneft.

Average gasoline prices have increased by more than 20 percent since the beginning of 2008, while diesel fuel has risen by 30 percent, according to the State Statistics Service.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
People protesting Wednesday near the White House. The sign challenges oil oligarchs to live on a bus driver's salary.
"I drive my own car to the dacha or to see relatives, but with prices growing every week, I have to think twice when to take the car and when to stay home," said Sergei Mitrofanov, a truck driver from Kolomna who was holding a banner reading: "Oligarchs, Keep Your Hands Out of Drivers' Pockets!"

The event also targeted aviation-fuel prices, which have risen 50 percent in Russia this year, leading to canceled flights and a state bailout of airline alliance AiRUnion.

"Hundreds of pilots are being laid off, and there is a whole generation of people in the Far East who can't afford to go to Moscow," said Miroslav Boichuk, president of the Cockpit Personnel Association.

Another banner advised oil oligarchs to try living on a bus driver's salary. "Drivers get about 30,000 rubles [$1,170] a month, and conductors a maximum of 15,000," said Svetlana Popova, a bus conductor from the Moscow suburb Lyubertsy, who wore protest stickers and flags showing a crossed-out gas pump.

"When gas prices increase, our salaries are cut to meet the budget," she said. "We want higher salaries."

Smaller events were held in cities across the country, including in St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Yekaterinburg and Kaliningrad, organizers said.

This is not the first protest for the Russian Road Transport Trade Union. Mokhnachyov, the group's leader, organized a demonstration against rising gasoline prices in 2005, which led to no visible results.

This time, he said, if the government does not move to address their complaints, another "more serious" demonstration will be held Oct. 7.