Motorists Rally Against Increased Car Import Tariffs

Dozens of motorists rallied in several cities nationwide last week to protest the government's decision to raise car import tariffs, Ekho Moskvy radio station reported.

The rallies took place in several cities across the country on Thursday, including St. Petersburg, Vladivostok, Irkutsk and Chita, Ekho Moskvy said.

It said several dozen people in each of the cities participated in the protests. Police did not move to disperse protesters, but at least one activist was detained in St. Petersburg.

Olga Kurnosova, who heads St. Petersburg's branch of the United Civil Front, an umbrella group of opposition movements, told Ekho Moskvy that she was detained on charges of breaching rules for holding the rally. She denounced her arrest as a "cowardly" move by authorities.

The rallies follow a wave of similar protests last month, including one in Vladivostok that was brutally dispersed by police. The government raised tariffs on imported automobiles last month in an attempt to bolster flagging domestic car production. The move particularly angered people in the Far East and Siberia because many work for car import businesses, and the public often buys relatively cheap, secondhand Japanese cars because they find them more reliable than Russian-made ones.

The protests have presented a rare challenge to authorities, who have faced little threat from the fragmented opposition and politically apathetic population during the years of oil-driven economic boom.