Entries in Moscow (38)


Thousands Protest in Moscow Against Ban on Adoptions to US

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Thousands of Russians took to the streets on Sunday to protest Russia’s new ban on adoptions to the United States.

In what organizers called the “March Against Scoundrels” they paraded down a tree-lined boulevard in central Moscow chanting “Hands off our children” and “Russia will be free.” They also carried signs with the faces of Russian politicians who approved the ban and the word “Shame” written on them.

“I am not an apologist for the U.S. I am a patriot of this country. But this monstrous law must be canceled,” leftist protest leader Sergei Udaltsov told the crowd before the march began, according to the Interfax news agency.

As usual, organizers and police disagreed on the size of the crowd. Organizers estimated between 20,000 and 50,000 people turned out. Police put the figure much lower at about 7,000, but overhead photos of the protest appear to show a crowd larger than that.

Significantly smaller protests, some consisting of just a few dozen people, took place in other cities around the country, according to Interfax. A nationwide poll taken in December by the Public Opinion Foundation found 56 percent support for the ban.

But participants in Sunday’s protests accused the ban’s proponents of playing politics with the lives of children.

The adoption ban was a late amendment to a bill retaliating for a set of human rights sanctions that President Obama signed into law in December. It cut off adoptions to the United States, one of the most popular destinations for international adoptions from Russia, starting Jan. 1.

More than 60,000 Russian orphans have been adopted by Americans since the end of the Soviet Union, according to the State Department. Many of them are sick or suffer from disabilities.

But Russian officials have pointed to the cases of 19 children who died after being adopted by Americans. They also noted cases in which American parents accused of abusing their adopted children received, in their view, lenient sentences.

Since the law went into effect, Russian officials have struggled to explain whether the ban would cancel 52 adoption cases that had already received court approval and were within weeks of completion. Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said Thursday that at least some of those adoptions which had cleared the courts would be allowed to proceed, but did to say how many.

The ban was controversial even before it became law. Even though it received nearly unanimous approval from Russia’s rubber stamp parliament, prominent cabinet officials, including Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, came out against the ban. Even President Vladimir Putin himself evaded questions about it when asked during an end of year press conference.

Since the ban was approved, top Russian officials have pledged to devote more resources to reforming the country’s dilapidated orphanages and to encourage more Russians to adopt.

Sunday’s protest was organized by some of the same opposition leaders who organized last year’s anti-Putin rallies. The last such protest, held without city approval and under heavy police presence, drew relatively few people in December, suggesting the protest movement had fizzled. Protest leader and anti-corruption blogger Alexy Navalny, however, told Interfax Sunday that he hopes the adoption ban could rally more Russians to continue protesting.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Russian Orthodox Priests Forgive Punk Rockers Pussy Riot

ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- Top priests from the Russian Orthodox Church reportedly said Saturday that they have forgiven an all female punk rock group that stormed the altar of Moscow's Christ the Savior Cathedral in February to perform what they called a "punk prayer," begging for divine intervention to rid Russia of President Vladimir Putin.

But the clerics' forgiveness may have come a day late for some of the women of the band, called Pussy Riot.

On Friday, three members of the band were found guilty of "hooliganism driven by religious hatred" and sentenced to two years in prison from the time of their initial detention.

In court on Friday the judge scolded the women before delivering the sentence.

"The court believes that such goals of punishment as restoration of social justice, the defendants' reform and the prevention of similar crimes may only be achieved if they are sentenced to imprisonment and serve their terms," the judge said, according to the Russian Interfax news agency.

The trial has sparked outrage around the world and drawn the attention from a chorus of Western music stars, including Paul McCartney, Madonna and Sting.

Their sentence was less than the seven-year maximum and also less than the three years in prison many observers expected. President Putin recently said he believed the women should not be treated too harshly.

The band was defiant before the court session. One member said they would not ask Putin for a pardon.

Outside the court, amid heavy police presence, supporters wearing the band's signature colorful balaclava knit caps held a rally and were joined by prominent politicians and opposition leaders.

Several, including former world chess champion Garry Kasparov and leftist protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, were arrested.

Others placed balaklavas on the heads of statues around town in silent protest.

The case was seen as a barometer of Putin's tolerance of dissent after a winter of unprecedented protests called on him to go.

Rallies in support of the band were held around the world before the verdict. The case also captured the attention of some of the world's most famous musicians.

On Thursday Paul McCartney added his voice to the growing list of music stars calling on Russia to set the women free. Pop diva Madonna spoke out last week from the stage during a concert in Moscow.

Other artists, including Sting, the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Franz Ferdinand have also used their recent Moscow concerts as a platform to call for Pussy Riot's release.

A recent poll released by the independent Levada Center found 44 percent of Russians believed the trial was objective, while only 18 percent believed the outcome was determined by the powers that be. Another 17 percent were doubtful of the trial's objectivity.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


New York to Moscow Plane Diverted After Bomb Threat

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A passenger jet flying from New York's John F. Kennedy Airport to Moscow was diverted to Iceland on Thursday because a caller reportedly told the NYPD there was a bomb on board.

A total of 256 people were on board the Russian Aeroflot plane when an anonymous caller told New York City police that there was a bomb on the flight, airline spokeswoman Irina Dannenberg told Russian media outlets.

Authorities in New York confirmed to ABC News that the plane was diverted because of "technical issues."

No bomb was found on board the plane, which remains in good condition, according to Russian news agency Interfax.  Interfax also reported that passengers are waiting for a new crew to arrive.  The crew on board the plane diverted to Iceland is reportedly being sent home to Moscow, as crews on the airline work according to set timetables.

The Airbus A330 took off from New York on Wednesday.  Prior to diverting to Iceland's Keflavik International Airport, at one point, the pilot considered turning the flight back to New York.  However, the pilot then decided to go on, only to divert to Iceland.

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Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


US Embassy Warns Against Threats of Violence at Russian Madonna Concert

Dave J Hogan/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- The U.S. Embassy has warned U.S. citizens who plan on attending Madonna's concerts in Russia this week that there have been specific threats of violence that have been made against both "spectators and performers" for at least one of the shows.

According to a note posted on the U.S. Embassy's website, both the U.S. Embassy Moscow and the U.S. Consulate General St. Petersburg have, "received information regarding a threat of physical violence against spectators and performers at the St. Petersburg concert on August 9."  Madonna is also playing Moscow on Tuesday night.

The note says that the information has been shared with Russian law enforcement authorities, who have, "indicated to the Embassy that they are taking appropriate measures in light of this information."  The message warns citizens to, "remain vigilant regarding their personal security, and to be aware of their surroundings at all times, especially in crowded areas."

Madonna's appearance in Russia has been controversial for two reasons. One, she declared her intention to speak out against a local law that bans so-called "homosexual propaganda." Two, she's also spoken out in support of the members of the Russian female punk band Pussy Riot, who've been imprisoned and are being prosecuted for inciting "religious hatred" due to a performance at an empty Moscow church that has been described as "blasphemous."

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Anti-Putin Rally to Be Held in Moscow After Cops Raid Protesters' Homes

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- Another massive opposition rally is scheduled to take place in central Moscow on Tuesday as protesters seek to keep up the pressure on Russian President Vladimir Putin.

On Monday, Putin launched a pre-emptive strike, as police raided the homes of several prominent protest leaders.  They reportedly seized laptops, anti-Kremlin material and over a million dollars in cash.  Those leaders have also been called in for questioning on Tuesday, a national holiday in Russia.  This will likely prevent them from attending the march and rally.

Authorities said the raids were part of an investigation into violence against riot police during the last protest in May, on the eve of Putin’s inauguration.  Analysts, however, say the raids were meant to intimidate the opposition and discourage protests.

Moscow authorities granted a permission for 50,000 people to gather near Pushkin Square and march to a rally point Tuesday afternoon.  Opposition leaders, however, remain divided about how best to keep up the momentum and what the next steps should be.

Crowds at protests since Putin won a third term as president in March have been much smaller than the ones that turned out spontaneously in December after the ruling United Russia was accused of massive fraud in parliamentary elections.  Such protests would have been unimaginable in Russia just months before.

During the last protest on May 6, tens of thousands of people -- an unexpectedly large crowd, but still smaller than December’s turnout -- marched to a spot near the Kremlin, but a planned rally never took place.  What happened next remains unclear, but a group of protesters tried to advance past lines of riot police, either to try and approach the Kremlin or to spread out into a nearby park.

After a brief sit-in, skirmishes between some protesters and riot police ensued.  Rocks, chunks of asphalt and bottles were thrown at police, who surged into the crowd to grab those who they believed were responsible for the violence.  Some appeared to be detained at random, and many who resisted were severely beaten.

By the end of the day, dozens of police were injured, hundreds of protesters were arrested and a handful of riot helmets were bobbing in the nearby river.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian Jailed for Sneezing, Spitting on Putin Photo

An opposition supporter wears a t-shirt with Russian President Vladimir Putin's picture in central St.Petersburg on May 31, 2012. OLGA MALTSEVA/AFP/GettyImages(MOSCOW) -- A lone protester detained in a small city east of Moscow earlier this month for spitting on an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin has reportedly been sentenced to 15 days in prison after being convicted of “minor hooliganism.”

Dimitry Karuyev insists he only sneezed on the photo, but the incident nevertheless shows how Russian authorities are cracking down on dissenters as Putin begins his third term in office amid unprecedented protests against him.

Two men were detained in Moscow earlier this week for allegedly assaulting riot police during a May 6 protest that turned violent. Several dozen protesters and about 30 police officers were injured in the scuffle that ended with hundreds detained and several police helmets bobbing in the Moscow River.

A third person, an 18-year-old woman named Alexandra Dukhanina who appeared in a widely published photo of the May 6 rally, has also been placed under house arrest while awaiting trial for allegedly taking part in “violent activity” during the protest.

Each of the three face a maximum of 5 years in prison if convicted.

Russian news reports speculate the three were singled out after they were identified in videos and photos of the melee posted online.

Analysts here have said it’s becoming apparent that Putin and his inner circle have decided to use a heavy hand when dealing with the nascent protest movement.

That became clear when, in a symbolic move earlier this month, Putin named an assembly line worker as his envoy to the Urals. During the contentious presidential campaign the man became famous in Russia after offering to come to Moscow and clear the protesters off the streets.

Authorities also jailed two prominent protest leaders, anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny and radical leftist Sergei Udaltsov, for 15 days earlier this month for their part in organizing the May 6 protest and subsequent demonstrations. Police are reportedly exploring further charges that could put them behind bars for a much longer time.

The ruling United Russia party, meanwhile, has spearheaded an effort to increase fines and penalties significantly for unsanctioned protests.

The opposition remains deeply divided, but leaders have pledged to mount another large protest on June 12 and are battling with municipal authorities for a permit.

In Moscow Thursday a heavy police presence was on hand to keep an eye on a protest, small but persistent, that has taken place on the last day of every month that ends in 31. At least 80 people were detained in the capital and dozens more in smaller rallies around the country.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Police Break Up Anti-Putin Protest in Early Morning Raid

Sasha Mordovets/Getty Images(MOSCOW) -- A week-long opposition protest against President Vladimir Putin has been broken up by police after authorities raided the demonstration early Wednesday morning in central Moscow. 

Police carried out the raid after a court ruled the protest was disturbing nearby neighbors. A few dozen people were forced out of the square just as dawn was breaking and several others were detained as they resisted, police said. Within hours after the raid, however, organizers had already regrouped at another square nearby.

The camp was set up a week ago in a silent protest against President Putin, but authorities said they had no basis to arrest them since they weren't chanting or carrying signs.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Occupy Moscow? Anti-Putin Protests Continue

Police detain an opposition supporter during a rally in Moscow on May 6. (ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/Getty Images)(MOSCOW) -- Hundreds of young people camped out in a square in central Moscow on Monday night, defying riot police who have detained more than 700 people in two days of protests surrounding Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. Some are calling for them to come out to the square again Tuesday night.

The atmosphere Monday night was festive. Those who turned out sang songs and played soccer, but refrained from chanting anti-Putin slogans or carrying signs – anything that would give authorities an excuse to arrest them. Police kept a watchful eye anyway. By mid-morning they finally moved in to clear out the protesters and pushed them into the metro, arresting a handful who resisted.

Protest organizers are still wandering the city, encouraging followers to stage similar flash mobs around Moscow to keep up the pressure on Putin. Tuesday and Wednesday are public holidays in Russia, giving more people time to come out and protest, but a rainy forecast may dampen the turnout. Some protest leaders, meanwhile, are urging people to take more constructive action than sit-ins – another sign of the opposition’s persistent divisions.

All of this took place after a day in which riot police were in no mood to tolerate dissent. As Putin spoke about strengthening Russia’s democracy during his brief inauguration speech, riot police stormed popular cafes and restaurants, even a McDonald’s, to clear out people they suspected of planning a protest.

Several people were detained just for walking down the street wearing white ribbons, the symbol of the opposition. Some young men who were detained were reportedly referred to military draft offices because they had not served mandatory military service.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Anti-Putin Protesters Clash with Riot Police in Largest Rally Since December

ANDREY SMIRNOV/AFP/GettyImages(MOSCOW) -- Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets Moscow on Sunday, the eve of President-elect Vladimir Putin’s inauguration, in the largest and most confrontational protest since December.

By the end of the day, hundreds were arrested during bitter clashes between protesters and riot police.

Russian news reports estimated the crowd size was at least 20,000 people.

Police said there were 8,000 people there.

One leader told ABC News she believed up to 70,000 turned out, and others put the number even higher than that. They chanted “Russia without Putin” and “Putin is a thief.”

Thousands of police were on hand as well.

Police say 250 were detained, opposition figures say more than 400. Putin’s spokesman was quoted saying he wishes police had been rougher in their response.

The march began peacefully with a festive atmosphere.

A marching band led the way as a who’s who of protest leaders walked towards a stage where they planned to give speeches.

Plans for a rally, however, never materialized as protest leaders staged a sit-in halfway through the march and confronted riot police, who eventually moved in and arrested them.

When the rest of the crowd defied orders to vacate the square when the rally permit expired, riot police linked arms and cleared protestors out of the square by force, at times using tear gas to disperse them. As they did the crowd shouted their disapproval, chanting “Shame, shame, shame.”

Some in the crowd threw rocks and bottles. According to some reports some ripped the helmets off of the riot police and tossed them in the river.

Police then began arresting people in greater numbers.

In effect, this is what organizers had in mind. One protest leader told ABC News they wanted pictures of arrests to color press coverage of Putin’s inauguration on Monday.

But not everyone in the crowd was happy. One woman who said she didn’t approve of the confrontational methods used by protest leaders Sunday.

She said she felt misled into turning out for a rally that never happened.

Before the protest Sunday many wondered whether the protest movement had lost its momentum amid falling turnouts for previous protests and internal divisions among the leadership about how best to proceed.

Sunday’s tactics will no doubt fuel the debate about how best to keep up the pressure going forward, as the opposition looks to see how it will affect Putin, if at all.

According to Interfax, authorities say police acted professionally, adding that 27 policemen were injured during Sunday’s operation, including three who were hospitalized. They said some suffered from stab wounds and other injuries.

There are also reports that a van for the pro-Kremlin station NTV was set upon by protesters who attempted to flip it over.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Russian Opposition Plans Anti-Putin ‘March of Millions’

NATALIA KOLESNIKOVA/AFP/GettyImages(NEW YORK) -- Opponents of Russian President-elect Vladimir Putin are planning to hold another large protest in central Moscow on Sunday, the eve of his inauguration.

The plan calls for protesters to march down a main avenue to a rally on an island in the middle of the Moscow river across from the Kremlin.

Organizers have called it the “March of Millions,” though they concede privately that they expect about 25,000 people to turn out.

According to organizers and reports on social media, several activists have been prevented from traveling to Moscow to attend the rally, including some who were removed from trains or stopped along the road and held for questioning.

Some protest leaders say they will try to occupy a square near the Kremlin in the hopes of drawing more attention both within Russia and abroad. Russian news reports say thousands of police have been deployed to prevent exactly that.

The protest comes at a critical moment for the budding opposition movement.

After drawing more than 100,000 people to protests in December, only about 20,000 people attended rallies after the election. Opposition leaders say they are at a crossroad as they struggle to maintain momentum in a movement that appeared to shake Putin’s stranglehold on power just months ago.

Thousands took to the streets after parliamentary elections in December kept Putin’s United Russia party in power amid allegations of massive fraud. Anger had been building ever since Putin announced plans in September to swap places with his protégé, President Dmitri Medvedev, and return to the Kremlin for a third term.

Ultimately, however, Putin retained significant support in rural areas and won every region except for Moscow in the March 4 elections.

After Putin’s victory divisions within the oppositions have only grown amid waning support and questions about how best to keep up the pressure.

Some more radical elements have advocated for civil disobedience and have been repeatedly arrested by police after defying restrictions on rally permits. Others have argued they must shift attention to local and regional elections outside of the major cities, trying to build support where Putin’s support remains strongest.

The movement has always been fragmented, an awkward alliance between factions that have little in common other than their opposition to Putin.

Liberals and environmental activists shared the stage with right-wing nationalists, often cringing when amid chants of “Putin is a thief,” they shouted slogans praising the glory of Russia.

Many organizers privately worry that they lost their opportunity to keep up the pressure on Putin before the elections, leaving many to wonder what they could have done better. Most agree, however, that Sunday’s protest will be critical to keeping up the pressure on Putin going forward.

Opposition leaders are also anxious to see how Putin will respond. Russian authorities appeared to tolerate protests before the election, but have not hesitated to detain protestors who defied the end of permitted protests since then.

One organizer, Natalia Pelevine, says she hopes to be arrested at Sunday’s protest.

“I want images of our arrest playing during his inauguration tomorrow,” she said.

Some opposition leaders are also planning another silent protest on Monday as Putin’s motorcade makes its way to the Kremlin for the inauguration. They plan to hold white ribbons, the symbol of the opposition, along a major avenue on Putin’s route into the city.

The hacker group Anonymous has also planned to target Putin’s inauguration, saying in a message posted on YouTube on Friday that they will attempt to bring down several Russian government websites on Monday.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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