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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Communist Rallies Draw Thousands

MTZyuganov speaking at a Moscow rally on Saturday. The bigger banner reads, "Anti-people government resign!"��
NIZHNY NOVGOROD -- Thousands of Communists took to the streets in national protests Saturday with anti-government signs that included the pointed query to President Dmitry Medvedev, "Where is the money, Dima?"

Ahead of the rallies, the Communist Party said more than 5 million people would participate, but it was impossible to determine how many had actually shown up. Neither the Communists nor the police provided national figures as of Sunday.

The Communists said 7,000 people attended a gathering addressed by party leader Gennady Zyuganov on Moscow's Triumfalnaya Ploshchad. But two Moscow Times journalists saw 1,000 to 2,000 people at most.

The protests are seen as a test of the Communist Party's ability to harness growing dissatisfaction with the economic crisis and turn it into political muscle.

"Many families are on the edge of survival, unemployment is growing," Viktor Ilyukhin, a senior Communist deputy in the State Duma, said by telephone Friday. "Citizens aren't relying on the government to support them any more."

The slogan "Where is the Money, Dima?" -- announced on the Communist Party web site for use at regional protests -- reflects ordinary people's financial situation, Ilyukhin said. "The savings that citizens had have practically run out," he said.

In Nizhny Novgorod, about 300 people protested peacefully at noon Saturday next to the city's Lenin monument. Many were elderly, but there were also young Communists and members of The Other Russia, the opposition coalition. Only four police officers watched the rally, which was held under a main banner reading, "Putin's Government Should Resign."

Mikhail Sharabanov, a student activist from the city's Avtozavodsky district, gave a speech about huge job cuts at GAZ, the troubled Nizhny Novgorod-based car giant, that was "once the pride of the country." He called for Communists to act, drawing loud applause.

"Comrades, we have been patient long enough. We are calling for decisive action," he said.

Afterward, rolling up a Lenin flag, Sharabanov said, "In the conditions of a complete information blockade, these meetings are the only way to bring our views to the people."

The Communists have accused state-controlled national television of ignoring their activities.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
Hundreds of people calling for the government to resign at a Communist rally on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad on Saturday. National protests drew large crowds of people worried about the economic crisis.
Alexander Krasnov, a 21 year-old microengineering student, said that in his hometown in the Nizhny Novgorod region there is no work and his friends travel 140 kilometers per day to commute to Nizhny Novgorod. "In the region, the situation is catastrophic, all the factories have stopped working," he said. "If the authorities don't listen to protests and the voice of the people, we will have to come out and block the roads. If they don't listen, it will spark more protests around Russia."

Emma Shchyogolova, a pensioner who worked at a defense research institute, said she came to the rally mainly because of growing prices on her apartment and food. "Living on a pension is very hard. Two-thirds of it goes to apartment fees and less than 2,000 rubles [$60] is left," she said.  

Svetlana Galgovskaya, 71, said she was worried about her children who run a small printing business. "They are fighting for survival. The government doesn't help small business at all," she said.

Back in Moscow, mainly elderly protesters stood with red flags and anti-Kremlin posters reading "Putin's plan: Russian version of the crisis." Natalya, 65, a former railroad conductor who refused to give her last name, said she had come because she "disagreed with everything happening in the country." She was carrying a red flag.

OMON riot police detained a dozen activists from the pro-Kremlin youth Young Guard chanting "Communism is the evil of Russia" close to the cordoned-off rally. Two more activists were detained when they started to throw anti-Soviet leaflets into the crowd. Police said the activists were released later in the day.

Zyuganov criticized the state's anti-crisis policies and the work of ministries during the hour-long rally.

Activists from opposition groups joined the Communists in many cities. "It is an act of solidarity of political forces over to the [government's] anti-crisis program," said Sergei Udaltsov, coordinator of the Left Front group. He said Friday that Left Front activists would attend rallies in 40 regions, including Moscow. Other Russia spokesman Alexander Averin said Friday that a "small number" of activists from his organization would participate.

Meanwhile, Vladivostok prosecutors ruled Friday that a banner reading "Putler Kaput" carried by opposition activists at several rallies was "offensive" and issued an official warning to the regional branch of the Communist Party, RIA-Novosti reported.

The slogan was examined by experts from the Justice Ministry who ruled it "offensive" and called it a "vividly expressed emotional assessment of the personality or acts of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin," Irina Nomokonova, a spokeswoman for the region's prosecutor, told Interfax.

"The organizers of marches and meetings were told of the unacceptability of using this slogan in future," Nomokonova said.

The local Communist leader, Vladimir Bespalov, said the warning was "a form of pressure on the opposition," RIA-Novosti reported.

Anna Malpas reported from Nizhny Novgorod.