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Russia allows anti-Putin demonstration in Red Square

By Sergei Loiko, Los Angeles Times –

MOSCOW—Russian authorities relented Sunday and let demonstrators wearing white ribbons take to the cobblestones of Moscow’s Red Square, strolling unhindered past the Kremlin walls and the Lenin mausoleum as they protested the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, the president-elect.

The Kremlin’s peaceful reaction surprised the “Let’s Turn Red Square White” protesters after dozens of people were detained during a similar rally a week earlier. The authorities that day closed the square in the face of demonstrations, angering and inconveniencing not only Muscovites, but also thousands of tourists.

“It is just one more of our victories, and we will build up pressure on Putin and his government,” said Pavel Shelkov, 47, a businessman. “I think they realized how absurd it is not to allow people to peacefully walk in Red Square with white ribbons.”

A week ago, Shelkov and his wife spent four hours in a jail cell for trying to enter Red Square wearing white ribbons, which have become the symbol of peaceful resistance to Putin.

Sergei Udaltsov, an opposition leader who spent the better part of last year behind the bars for protest activities, on Sunday was able for the first time to distribute opposition booklets in the square.

“The Kremlin is finally displaying some common sense,” Udaltsov said. “It is a good sign, which demonstrates that our efforts have not been in vain.”

The opposition has held a series of protests against Putin’s rule since disputed parliamentary elections in December. In apparent response, President Dmitry Medvedev signed a law last week significantly simplifying the registration of political parties. A draft bill for the return to direct elections of regional governors passed its first reading in parliament and is expected to soon become law.

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