Russians, in peaceful protest, call for Putin to quit

By Andrew Osborn and Svetlana Reiter

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Several hundred Russians lined up in central Moscow on Saturday under the gaze of riot police to hand over handwritten appeals for President Vladimir Putin to quit, as similar protests took place in other cities.

Putin, who has dominated Russian politics for 17 years, has not said whether he will run in presidential elections in March 2018. But the 64-year-old politician, who enjoys high popularity ratings, is widely expected to do so.

Saturday’s protest in the capital — called “We’re sick of him” — was organized by the Open Russia movement founded by Kremlin critic Mikhail Khodorkovsky. Once Russia’s richest man, he was freed by Putin in 2013 after spending a decade in jail for fraud, a charge Khodorkovsky said was politically-motivated.

One of hundreds shepherded into a queue behind metal barriers by police before handing over their petitions one-by- one, Anna, a 16-year-old Moscow schoolgirl, said she hoped Putin would get the message and not run again.

“Nothing positive has happened in our country on his watch and I have the sense that things are getting worse, and that the main problem is the fact that those in power are the same,” she told Reuters.

Her preference for president was opposition politician Alexei Navalny, who spent 15 days in jail last month after helping organize the biggest anti-government protests since 2012, which ended with over 1,000 arrests.

Saturday’s event, held in bright sunshine, was more modest, though authorities were taking no chances. A Reuters reporter counted at least 30 police buses and coaches in the area, packed with hundreds of riot police.

Videos posted by Russian media showed police in riot gear detaining protesters in St Petersburg, where activists reported over 100 arrests. There was no official confirmation of the arrests.

STEPPING UP PRESSURE

Police said 250 people had showed up in Moscow, the Interfax news agency reported, while Maria Baronova, an Open Russia activist,…

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