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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Premier Appeals for Calm in Protest




Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov asked protesters to respect the law and "not to rock our common boat" during Wednesday's national day of protest, while the justice minister warned that incitements to violence or revolution could bring criminal charges.


In a televised address Tuesday evening, Primakov reminded long-suffering citizens of his new government's vows to pay off back wages and pensions, and said that "the way out of the crisis for Russia is calm and concord, it's stability and discipline, it's obeying the Constitution."


Calling on people "to solve our most important problems together," Primakov agreed that the unpaid workers taking to the streets "have reason for dissatisfaction" but urged them "not to rock our common boat in this all-too-stormy sea."


Communist leaders and trade union officials called for marchers and strikers to remain peaceful while they insisted on the resignation of President Boris Yeltsin and demanded billions of rubles in back wages.


Similar national protests over the past two years have been peaceful and drawn far fewer people than organizers predicted. But this year's atmosphere has been charged by the recent ruble collapse, which has further eroded the miserable wages and savings of Russia's workers, many of whom have not been paid for months.


Justice Minister Pavel Krasheninnikov urged protest participants "to be calm, be tolerant of views that do not coincide with theirs."


Justice Ministry officials will be alert for sedition or calls to violence, he said at a news conference.


"I want to warn that the authorities will very attentively watch tomorrow's events," he said. "If any violations of law take place, be it calls for forcibly changing the constitutional order, be it other actions, the Justice Ministry and Interior Ministry bodies will very thoroughly monitor this and draw their conclusions."


In a warning shot, Krasheninnikov said his ministry had asked prosecutors to investigate the possibility of charges against State Duma Deputy Albert Makashov and others for inflammatory remarks made at Sunday's commemoration of the bloody October 1993 confrontation between Yeltsin and the Soviet-era parliament.


Krasheninnikov said ministry officials had met with representatives of over 50 groups last week. In particular, he said Viktor Anpilov, head of the radical leftist Working Russia movement, had said he would not engage in civil disobedience. Along with Justice Ministry officials being sent to observe Wednesday's rallies, Communist leaders said they too were asking their followers to carry cameras and document any provocations or violence.


Mainstream Communist Party head Gennady Zyuganov called for a disciplined show of disgust with Yeltsin. "It's in our interest for the protest action to be powerful, peaceful and well-organized," he said in an interview in the Komsomolskaya Pravda newspaper.


Zyuganov said that 40 million of Russia's 150 million people would take part, and that 45 regional governors would turn out for the leftist cause. Union officials said that 9 million would strike and as many as 28 million would participate in marches and other actions.


Earlier protests have fallen far short of organizer's predictions, with the government saying only 1.8 million turned out for a similar protest in March 1997, though union leaders said there were 20 million participants.


Yegor Stroyev, centrist chairman of the upper house of parliament and governor of the Oryol region, said the day of protest would be more a chance for people to express their unhappiness over the economy than a display of radicalism.


"The political pressure has been largely relieved by the new government, which openly admits that it is not possible to rid the country of its troubles quickly," Stroyev was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.


The Communists supported the nomination of Primakov less than a month ago and hardly seem bent on revolution, though they continue to press for Yeltsin's removal by resignation or impeachment.


Yeltsin, politically weakened by the economic crisis, has been pushed to the sidelines of politics, though he retains enormous powers on paper.


Gennady Seleznyov, the moderate Communist speaker of the State Duma, parliament's lower house, said he would not take part in Wednesday's protest since he would be busy chairing a legislative session. "The Duma will work as usual on Oct. 7," he said.


Others not taking part include cosmonauts Gennady Padalka and Sergei Avdeyev aboard the Mir space station, although some space agency personnel not involved in the flight might join street marches, Itar-Tass reported.


"The cosmonauts also feel the shortage of funds, since their scientific program has been curtailed and their supply ship is late - so I think they support the economic demands of the protesters," deputy flight director Viktor Blagov was quoted as saying by Itar-Tass.


Armed forces personnel- who also often go unpaid - are legally entitled to take part, but only when off duty. "We hope that military servicemen abide by laws and will have enough strong will to participate in the protest actions only when off duty," said Vladislav Putilin, chief of the General Staff's organization and mobilization department.


However, "only time will tell whether they participate or not," he said. "I don't think there will be mass participation."