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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

20,000 Turn Out in Support of NTV

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Thousands of protesters, many with signs denouncing President Vladimir Putin, poured into a Moscow square on Saturday to defend NTV television from what they saw as a government attack.

Organizers and police said at least 20,000 people turned out for the demonstration on Pushkin Square, at which prominent liberals said NTV was in danger of being closed.

The rally, interspersed with rock music, was one of the largest in years to be attended by Muscovites grown apathetic after political passions of the 1980s and early 1990s.

Children waved green balloons with the NTV logo, young people wore cloth caps that said "I love NTV," and many people wore stickers on their lapels that said, "For NTV."

Demonstrators spilled over into adjacent streets and perched on tree branches.

Click here to read our special report on the Struggle for Media-MOST.

NTV's founder Vladimir Gusinsky, currently in Spain fighting extradition on fraud charges, is trying to fend off a takeover bid by state-dominated gas giant Gazprom. A shareholders' meeting this week may try to oust him.

Liberals see the dispute and legal action against NTV, as a test of Putin's commitment to press freedom and fair reporting of issues like Russia's war against separatist Chechnya.

"We know why they want to destroy NTV. So that we will never know about millions of dollars being taken out of the country or about how a war is being conducted with slogans of fighting terrorism and corruption," Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party, told the gathering.

"We know that this is not about fighting terrorists and corruption but about the fight for press freedom."

NTV has earned a reputation as a critic of Kremlin policies, particularly Russia's two military campaigns against Chechnya. It has accused Putin of chipping away at individual freedoms in a little more than a year in office.

Irina Khakamada, a leader of the Union of Right Forces faction in parliament, told the crowd that they had to fight for freedom of the press.

"We have no license or right to permit this or that channel to work, but we have our voice and that's why we are out on the streets again to speak our freedom," she said.

Yevgeny Kiselyov, NTV's general director and anchor of its flagship news program, said the station could be closed soon.

"It is very simple — a new management could do anything," he told reporters.

Musicians and athletes also spoke in defense of NTV during the two-hour gathering in bright spring sunshine.

The rally had been given wide publicity all week on NTV and on radio stations and newspapers in Gusinsky's Media-MOST group.

But the other two national television networks, state-owned RTR television and ORT television, ignored the gathering in their Saturday afternoon news bulletins.

Many rally participants were pleased at the large turnout.

"I just wanted to do my bit for NTV," said Maya, a museum worker in her sixties. "It was so good to look around at all the faces of people who had clearly thought about all these issues."

(Reuters, AP)