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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberal Leaders Call For United Front

APMikhail Kasyanov speaking to Irina Khakamada during a congress of liberal politicians and activists on Monday.
Liberal politicians and rights activists called on the nation's fragmented and disorganized pro-democracy groups on Monday to unite to counter what they described as President Vladimir Putin's increasingly authoritarian streak.

Nikita Belykh, the leader of the liberal Union of Rights Forces party, or SPS, called for all pro-democracy parties and groups to unite in the next 250 days to prepare for 2007 parliamentary elections.

Belykh, speaking to a congress of liberal political forces, said that he and his party were ready to sacrifice their ambitions for the sake of forming such a broad coalition.

He said that "pride, old grudges, whining and sniveling" had prevented liberals from forming a single party.

SPS and another leading liberal party, Yabloko, both failed to win the 5 percent minimum votes needed to gain seats in the State Duma in the December 2003 parliamentary elections. The two parties pooled their efforts in recent elections to the Moscow City Duma, which were seen as an indicator of the political balance in the country, winning three seats in the 35-seat legislature.

The State Duma has served as a docile tool for Putin, eagerly rubber-stamping the Kremlin's effort to end elections of regional leaders and tightening rules for political parties and the media -- moves seen by critics in Russia and abroad as backsliding on Russia's post-Soviet democratic reforms.

"We are living in an authoritarian regime that is getting harsher and clearly sliding into totalitarianism," Yabloko leader Grigory Yavlinsky said Monday.

Yavlinsky also called on liberal parties to work together, but asked whether he was ready to sacrifice his party logo and his role of its leader for the sake of uniting, he said: "This thought didn't cross my mind. On the contrary we are working to unite, not to make sacrifices."

Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who now focuses on political activities, also accused Putin of trying to rebuild a Soviet-style totalitarian state. "We have seen less and less democracy and more and more dictatorship," he said.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who lost his job last year after speaking out against the arrest of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, has recently sought to position himself as a leader of a yet-to-be-formed united liberal opposition.

Speaking to Monday's congress, he said he shared part of the blame for the Kremlin's drive to strengthen official controls and "measures aimed at curtailing democracy" in Russia, and pledged to take an active part in the pro-democracy movement.

Kasyanov proposed forming a public oversight body separate from the Public Chamber, whose members were hand-picked by the Kremlin.

"What we see around us increasingly resembles the totalitarian Soviet Union," Kasyanov said. "I have decided to dedicate all my time and effort to building a broad democratic coalition."

Irina Khakamada, a prominent liberal politician, urged others to support Kasyanov if he ran for president in 2008.