Thousands march to protest Russia's adoption ban
Moscow: Thousands marched through Moscow today to protest Russia's new law banning Americans from adopting Russian children, a far bigger number than expected in a sign that outrage over the ban has breathed some life into the dispirited anti-Kremlin opposition movement.
Shouting "shame on the scum," protesters carried posters of President Vladimir Putin and members of Russia's parliament who overwhelmingly voted for the law last month. Up to 20,000 took part in the demonstration on a frigid, gray afternoon.
The march was led by many of the same opposition figures who led the protest rallies that drew more than 100,000 people a year ago to demand free elections and an end to Putin's 12 years in power.
Since Putin began a third presidential term in May, the protests have flagged as the opposition leaders have struggled to provide direction and capitalise on the broad discontent.
The adoption ban, which opponents argue victimises children to make a political point, has stoked the anger of the same middle-class, urban professionals who swelled the protest ranks last winter. The same creative wit was once again on display today.
"Parliament deputies to orphanages, Putin to an old people's home," read one poster. Another showed Putin with the words "For a Russia without Herod."
Putin's critics have likened him to King Herod, who ruled at the time of Jesus Christ's birth and who the Bible says ordered the massacre of Jewish children to avoid being supplanted by the newborn king of the Jews.
Russia's adoption ban was retaliation for a new US law targeting Russians accused of human rights abuses. It also addresses long-brewing resentment in Russia over the 60,000 Russian children who have been adopted by Americans in the past two decades, 19 of whom have died.
Cases of Russian children dying or suffering abuse at the hands of their American adoptive parents have been widely publicised in Russia, and the law banning adoptions was called the Dima Yakovlev Bill after a toddler who died in 2008 when he was left in a car for hours in broiling heat.
"Yes, there are cases when they are abused and killed, but they are rare," said Sergei Udaltsov, who heads a leftist opposition group.
"Concrete measures should be taken (to punish those responsible), but our government decided to act differently and sacrifice children's fates for their political ambitions."
Those opposed to the adoption ban accuse Putin's government of stoking anti-American sentiments in Russian society in an effort to solidify support among its base, the working-class Russians who live in small cities and towns.