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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Police Pull Over Cars During Drivers' Protest

MTA traffic police officer watching a procession of cars taking part in a protest against bureaucrats' cars on Sunday.
Traffic police stopped hundreds of drivers for document checks and purported traffic violations in western Moscow on Sunday, breaking up a protest of at least 1,000 drivers over the conviction of a fellow driver and the use of flashing blue lights and sirens on bureaucrats' cars.

In all, thousands of drivers took to the streets across the country over the weekend to denounce VIP cars and the conviction of Oleg Shcherbinsky in the car crash that killed Altai Governor Mikhail Yevdokimov last year, said the rally's organizer, the Free Choice Motorists' Movement, a nongovernmental organization. Similar grassroots protests have been rare during President Vladimir Putin's six years in office.

Shcherbinsky, a railway worker, was making a left turn off a highway in the Altai region in August when the Mercedes carrying Yevdokimov raced up from behind at a speed of 149 to 200 kilometers per hour, or perhaps even more. The Mercedes tried to pass on the left, grazed the car and flew off the road. The governor, his bodyguard and his driver died. An Altai court ruled on Feb. 6 that Shcherbinsky should have yielded to the governor's car and sentenced him to four years in a labor colony.

At least 500 cars, many flying orange and black ribbons and carrying signs reading "Today Shcherbinsky, tomorrow you" and admonishing the "hot rods with sirens" driven by bureaucrats, gathered on Krylatskaya Ulitsa, in western Moscow, at the start of the protest at 12:30 p.m. A second convoy of about 500 cars left an hour later. Participants traveled slowly and with their emergency lights blinking to Vorobyovy Gory, in southwestern Moscow.

The cars, however, became engulfed in surrounding traffic, and many drivers were pulled over by traffic police, who were stationed at every kilometer along the route. One driver in a beat-up van said he had been pulled over after going through a green light. A Moscow Times car following the convoy was pulled over and fined 100 rubles after going through a yellow light.

An unidentified police official told Interfax that officers had broken up the convoy into groups of three to five cars to prevent a traffic jam.

The leader of the Free Choice Motorists' Movement, Vyacheslav Lysakov, declared the protest a success, despite "minor interferences" by the police.

"Today's protest wasn't only about one man," Lysakov said of Shcherbinsky. "It was a step toward developing civil society in Russia, and I think the powers that be understand this."

Lysakov said 2,000 to 4,000 cars took part. A police source told Interfax that the figure was closer to 250 -- an estimate that Lysakov called "just stupid."

Lysakov had refused to associate the protest with any political ideology.

But Vladimir Pribylovsky, head of the Panorama think tank, said it was impossible to completely separate the battle against flashing blue lights and sirens from politics. "It is political in that it is anti-bureaucratic," Pribylovsky said Sunday. "The bureaucrats are the ruling class that have put in place feudal privileges for themselves, including the right to do whatever they want on the road at the expense of the common man."

Rally participants voiced similar disdain for the lights and said they hoped their actions would help secure a retrial for Shcherbinsky.

Roman Popov, a 28-year-old computer programmer, said sirens should be reserved for police cars, ambulances and fire trucks. "Right now anyone who makes it to the feed trough can get a siren and [official] license plates and not give a damn about traffic laws," he said.

Pavel Shyolkov, 38, a businessman, complained that bureaucrats felt that they were above the law. "Thank God I've never been in an accident with someone with a siren, but almost all of us have seen how some car with a siren tries to nudge you out of the way or just drive down the middle of a two-way street," he said.

Similar protests were to be held in 21 other cities over the weekend. Lysakov said participation figures were still rolling in Sunday evening.

Around 1,000 people attended a protest on Sakharov Square in Barnaul, the capital of the Altai region, on Saturday, NTV television reported.

Meanwhile, the Union of Coordination Councils, a coalition of small NGOs born out of protests over the monetization of state benefits last year, organized rallies in several cities over the weekend to protest rising housing and utility costs. About 1,000 people participated in a demonstration in Izhevsk, in the Udmutria region, on Sunday, Interfax reported. Andrei Demidov, an organizer, said about 50 people showed up on Pushkin Square.