Banned Russia election rally will go on

Other News Materials 22 February 2008 04:52 (UTC +04:00)

( Reuters ) - Russian opposition groups will defy a ban on a protest planned for the day after the March 2 presidential election, an activist said on Thursday.

City officials earlier refused to give permission for the rally by the Other Russia opposition umbrella group, citing concerns about tourists and private cars.

Polls predict President Vladimir Putin's favored successor, Dmitry Medvedev, will win with around 70 percent of the vote. Both men grew up and studied in St Petersburg. Kremlin opponents says the election has been rigged to ensure Medvedev's victory.

"Medvedev told us freedom is better than non-freedom. On March 3 we can easily see what his real views are," Andrei Dmitriev, the march organiser and local leader of the banned National Bolshevik Party, told Reuters.

"If we are baton-charged it will mean all his (Medvedev's) talk about democracy is only for outside use, not our streets."

Russia has banned the National Bolshevik party because it says it is an extremist group.

Other Russia is a loose collection of Kremlin opponents, from Communists to liberals, who say Putin has eroded freedom during his eight years in power.

Dmitriev said city officials told him the rallying point at the end of the march would block access for tourists to a nearby museum, while the main marching route would pass protected buildings under renovation, which is forbidden.

"They also said the authorities couldn't be responsible for the safety of private cars near our meeting point," he said.

Dmitriev said many people in St Petersburg were unhappy with the election process and would join the protest. Rally organizers would also appeal against Thursday's ban in court.

Three candidates are standing against Medvedev. Many Kremlin opponents have either refused to run in the election because they say it is unfair or they have been disqualified by the central election commission.

Last year hundreds of protesters were detained and others dispersed by riot police during several rallies in St Petersburg and Moscow organized by the 'Other Russia' movement.