MOSCOW (Reuters) – Over 1,000 people marched through Moscow on Sunday in an event a Kremlin critic tried to turn into a protest against a constitutional shake-up by President Vladimir Putin, but many demonstrators chose to voice dissent about other issues instead.
Yulia Galyamina, a Moscow city councillor, had urged people to take to the streets to speak out against Putin’s proposed political changes by joining an authorized rally already due to be held to mark the murder of a journalist, Anastasia Baburova, and a lawyer, Stanislav Markelov, 11 years ago.
But many protesters did not heed her call and Sunday’s event saw a smaller turnout than many previous opposition protests last summer, which at their peak drew around 60,000 people.
Sunday’s protest was also made up of diverse groups with different political demands, including anti-fascists, women’s rights campaigners, leftists and students, meaning the anti-Putin protest component was diluted.
Putin’s proposed reforms, which triggered the resignation of the prime minister and government last week, are widely seen as giving Putin, 67, scope to extend his grip on power once he leaves the presidency in 2024. [nL8N29L2M9]
The changes would create new centers of power outside the presidency, and critics say that means Putin could be pulling the strings from behind the scenes for years to come.
Putin’s plan has divided the anti-Kremlin opposition however, with some calling it “an anti-constitutional coup” and others, like prominent opposition politician Alexei Navalny, dismissing it as unimportant in the scheme of things and therefore not worth protesting over.
Galyamina, the Moscow city councillor, marched on Sunday holding copies of Russia’s constitution which she said was imperiled by Putin’s reforms.
“Putin leave office!,” Galyamina and others shouted, saying his plan amounted to repressing the Russian people.
On Saturday, some Russians took turns to hold one-person pickets outside the presidential administration to express their disagreement with Putin’s constitutional reforms.
The TASS news agency has also reported that authorities in Moscow have authorized a protest of up to 10,000 people against Putin’s reforms on Feb. 1. It is unclear who the organizers are.
(Reporting by Mikhail Antonov, Dmitry Madorsky, Dmitry Turlyun and Maxim Rodionov; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)