Dozens arrested in Russian TV tower picket

The rallies have waned in the days since Putin`s dominant win in a vote European monitors called more transparent than previous elections.

Moscow: Riot police arrested dozens of
protesters on Sunday who picketed Moscow`s iconic television tower
after footage purporting to show people being paid to rally
against Vladimir Putin was aired nationally.

A news agency correspondent saw organisers Boris Nemtsov and
Sergei Udaltsov being led away with about 30 others sporting
the white protest ribbons of the nascent movement against
Putin`s 12-year domination of Russia.

The crowd of about 500 chanted "Shame to NTV" and "Russia
without Putin" as dozens of helmeted police protected the
doors of the country`s main television centre and made
periodic arrests.

The demonstration outside Ostankino tower aims to cap a
growing campaign for Russians to boycott NTV television -- a
once independent network now run by the media arm of the
state-run natural gas monopoly Gazprom.

The station had aired a series of self-proclaimed
documentaries in the run-up to Putin`s March 4 election to a
third term claiming to back up his charges that the protests
were being funded by the West.

Its latest report on Thursday night showed people openly
accepting cash payments for attending a small anti-Putin
demonstration in Moscow this winter.

But some of those who appeared at the rally told various
private media outlets this weekend that they had only shown up
at the agreed location after responding to an advertisement
placed by NTV television itself.

"Now it is clear why the Kremlin decided to decriminalise
defamation and make it into a civil offence on the eve of the
elections," Gazprom Media`s former director Alfred Kokh wrote
in his blog.

The once fiercely-critical station fell under state
control just a year after Putin won his first term as
president in 2000. Tens of thousands had gathered outside
Ostankino tower in the station`s defence at the time.

The Kremlin had managed extend its grip on almost all
major TV networks by the time the former KGB spy left office
and became prime minister under his hand-picked presidential
successor Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

The sudden prospects of his return and the fraud-tainted
polls that helped the ruling party keep its parliamentary
majority in December fuelled mass protests not seen in Moscow
since the days of the Soviet Union`s collapse.

The rallies have waned in the days since Putin`s dominant
win in a vote European monitors called more transparent than
previous elections.

Yet hundreds still came out in Moscow yesterday and a
group of activists staged an overnight vigil near Red Square
in defence of democratic freedoms. (AFP)


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