Moscow: Russia on Sunday came to terms with its second mass opposition rally within a month which was even bigger and more sharply critical of strongman Vladimir Putin than the first such protest two weeks ago.
Organisers said 120,000 people attended the extraordinary
rally in central Moscow yesterday where protesters chanted
slogans against Putin and called for the annulment of disputed
December elections won by his party.
Police put the numbers at 29,000 but correspondents said the turnout was clearly bigger than the first rally two weeks ago which smashed the taboo in Russia against mass opposition protests.
The last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev also dramatically called on Putin to quit, just as he had done on December 25, 1991 when the USSR collapsed exactly two decades ago,
"This is not an outburst which will die down. This is not about the protests but about the mood," Yevgeny Gontmakher, head of the Centre for Social Policies at the Moscow-based Economics Institute, said.
"There is a danger of a revolution. Authorities are making concessions but are not keeping up with the development of the events."
Russia`s state television took the surprise decision to cover the rally hinting at an easing of a long-held taboo against direct criticism of Putin, who came to power 12 years ago and wants to stay at the helm until 2024.
"Sharply negative appraisals of Vladimir Putin have been voiced several times," said a report about the rally broadcast on the Channel One last night.
With opposition supporters stepping up their challenge to Putin in a campaign first triggered by claims of fraud in December 4 parliamentary polls, a growing public anger against Putin has become impossible to ignore.
"Channel One honestly speaks of the anti-Putin nature of today`s meeting. That obviously cannot be pure coincidence," said Vladimir Varfolomeyev, a commentator with liberal Echo of Moscow radio.
Putin, who announced a plan to leave his current post as prime minister to reclaim his old Kremlin job in March presidential polls, is struggling with the worst legitimacy crisis of his rule.
Mass protests were triggered by widespread claim of wholesale violations in the parliamentary polls this month which handed a reduced majority to Putin`s ruling United Russia party.