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Posts tagged ‘Kremlin’

Kremlin: Russia, U.S. to Step up Counter-Terrorism Cooperation.


MOSCOW  — The Russian and U.S. presidents have agreed by telephone to increase cooperation on counter-terrorism following the Boston Marathon bombings, the Kremlin said on Saturday.

The White House said President Barack Obama had thanked President Vladimir Putin for Russia’s close cooperation on counter-terrorism after the bombing, which U.S. officials suspect was carried out by two ethnic Chechens who once lived in Russia.

“President Putin expressed his condolences on behalf of the Russian people for the tragic loss of life in Boston,” the White House said in a statement.

It said Obama had praised cooperation with Russia on counter-terrorism, including after Monday’s bombing. The Kremlin appeared to go further, saying the two leaders had agreed they should now step up their work together in this field.

“Both sides underlined their interest in deepening the close cooperation of the Russian and U.S. special services in the fight against international terrorism,” it said, but gave no details.

Putin has not commented on the identity of the two suspects, ethnic Chechen brothers who moved to the United States more than a decade ago after briefly living in Russia’s volatile southern region of Dagestan.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was shot dead by police and his brother Dzhokhar was captured after a manhunt.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Friday Putin had repeatedly made clear that Russia condemned all acts of terror, regardless of who carried them out.

© 2013 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.
Source: NEWS max.com

Russia closes investigation into whistleblower’s death.


MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia has closed an investigation into the death in custody of a whistleblower lawyer because it has found no evidence of foul play, federal investigators said on Tuesday.

Lawyer Sergei Magnitsky died in 2009 while awaiting trial on charges of tax evasion and fraud that were similar to accusations he had made against police and tax officials. The case has damaged ties between Russia and the United States.

No one has been held accountable for Magnitsky’s death at the age of 37. The Kremlin‘s own human rights council has said he was probably beaten to death in detention, but President Vladimir Putin says he died of heart failure.

“In the course of the investigation of the criminal case, no objective facts have been established regarding a crime in relation to Sergei Magnitsky,” a statement from the Investigative Committee said.

“A decision has been taken to end the criminal case because of the absence of a crime.”

A Russian court is trying Magnitsky posthumously in a case which critics say the Kremlin is pursuing to discredit his allegations against police and tax officials, but the Kremlin denies having any influence over Russian courts.

The decision to halt the investigation into Magnitsky’s death is likely to dismay human rights activists and renew criticism of the legal system in Russia.

The United States passed legislation last year which is intended to bar visas for Russians accused of involvement in Magnitsky’s case and freeze the assets they hold in the United States. Russia responded with legislation to punish Americans accused of violating the rights of Russians.

(Reporting by Thomas Grove, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

SOURCE: YAHOO NEWS.

ReutersReuters

Circling the wagons? Putin urges ‘drastic upgrade’ to Russia’s military.


Experts say that Putin’s message was meant to play well to Russian generals who have resented the dramatic reforms of recent years.

 

In a speech to Russia‘s top military brass, President Vladimir Putinhas urged them to make a “drastic upgrade” to Russia’s armed forces within the next five years to counter a series of emergingexternal threats and what he described as “systematic attempts to undermine the balance of power” by the United States.

Russian military experts caution that Mr. Putin’s hawkish rhetoric in his Wednesday address to the Defense Ministry Board, which includes the defense minister and most top generals, was probably not intended for a foreign audience.

Yet the remarks are nevertheless bound to be read around the world as another sign – one among many – that Russia under Putin is turning inwards, circling the wagons against foreign influences, and using fear of external threats as a means of enforcing an increasingly conservative and isolationist brand of national unity.

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“The changing geopolitical situation requires rapid and considered action. Russia’s armed forcesmust reach a fundamentally new capability level within the next 3-5 years,” Putin said, according to an English-language transcript of his speech posted on the Kremlin website. “We see how instability and conflict are spreading around the world today. Armed conflict continues in the Middle East andAsia, and the danger of ‘export’ of radicalism and chaos continues to grow in our neighboring regions.”

Russia has been deeply alarmed by what it sees as chaos spreading across the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring. The Kremlin blames the West for fanning the flames of revolt, and worries that the turmoil will spread to its own mainly Muslim north Caucasus region, where an Islamist insurgency has been gradually growing for years.

“At the same time, we see methodical attempts to undermine the strategic balance in various ways and forms,” Putin continued.

“The United States has essentially launched now the second phase in its global missile defence system. There are attempts to sound out possibilities for expanding NATO further eastward, and there is also the danger of militarization in the Arctic…. All of these challenges – and these are just a few of the many we face – are of direct concern to our national interests and therefore also determine our priorities,” he added.

Experts say Putin was likely using the external threat as a device to restore normalcy and a sense of common purpose in Russia’s military brass after five years of sweeping structural reforms that led to the forced retirement of over half the officer corps, abolished scores of “phantom” Soviet-era divisions that had a full complement of officers but were meant to be filled out with conscripts in wartime, and tried to replace them with a smaller number of mobile, professional military “brigades.”

The reforms picked up pace after Russia’s brief summer war with Georgia which, though victorious, exposed many levels of serious shortcomings in the armed forces.

In addition to draconian structural changes, the Kremlin also authorized a $750 billion, 8-year rearmament program designed to re-equip the armed forces with 21st century weaponry.

Those reforms were carried out by now-disgraced former Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, who was accused of corruption and removed late last year in what many observers saw as the revenge of the old military establishment.

“Mr. Serdyukov’s reforms were a strong rejection of Russian military traditions, and they were hated by the majority of officers,” says Alexander Golts, military columnist with Yezhednevny Zhurnal, an online news magazine.

“He basically abolished the Soviet and czarist-era model of a ‘mass mobilization army,’ and tried to replace it with more modern armed forces,” he says. “Now is a good historical moment for such reforms, since it’s clear that our armed forces have no global adversary.”

Serdyukov was replaced by Sergei Shoigu, one of Russia’s most respected political leaders and a staunch Putin loyalist, who has since dismayed liberals by chipping away at the reforms, apparently with Putin’s blessing. Mr. Shoigu has already issued 20 orders aimed at putting things back the way they were, including restoring the famous Tamanskaya and Kantemirovskaya divisions, which had been transformed into smaller brigades by Serdyukov, says Viktor Baranets, a former defense ministry spokesman who’s now military columnist for the Moscow daily Komsomolskaya Pravda.

“Shoigu is trying to return the army to the position it had before Serdyukov,” Mr. Baranets says.

Baranets, reached on his cellphone in the midst of a visit to a famous Russian paratroop division inPskov, adds the vast majority of officers and men he talks with approve of reversing the reforms.

“They welcome Shoigu’s decisions…. Serdyukov was mutilating the army, and even the good things he introduced were badly implemented…. The army hopes Shoigu will be able to continue,” he says.

Mr. Golts says that Putin, who introduced the military reform in the first place and appointed his close associate Serdyukov to implement it, knows that the changes were essential for bringing Russia’s military into the 21st century. Yet in his speech to the military brass, Putin avoided any mention of Shoigu’s efforts to reverse the reforms, and confined his own remarks to themes that were sure to play well with the assembled generals: the need for greater vigilance against rising external threats, better weaponry for the armed forces, more war games, and higher pay and benefits for officers.

“Putin understands perfectly well what’s needed, but these days he appears more interested in securing the political support of those old-fashioned officers,” Golts says.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Fred Weir | Christian Science Monitor

Russia’s 2012 crackdown worst since Soviet era -rights group.


  • Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, speaks during a news conference in Moscow January 31, 2013. Human Rights Watch presented its annual report on Thursday. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

    View PhotoReuters/Reuters – Rachel Denber, deputy director of the Europe and Central Asia Division of Human Rights Watch, speaks during a news conference in Moscow January 31, 2013. Human Rights Watch presented its annual …more 

MOSCOW (Reuters) – Authoritarianism increased last year inRussia to levels unseen since the Soviet era with a raft of harsh laws curbing political freedoms and harassment of opposition activists and critics, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday.

The crackdown coincided with the return of Vladimir Putin to the Kremlin and the appointment of his predecessor and protégé, Dmitry Medvedev, as prime minister, according to the New York-based group.

“Since Putin’s return … not only has the tentative shift towards liberalization of the Medvedev era been totally reversed, but also authoritarianism in Russia has reached a level unknown in recent history,” said Rachel Denber, deputy director of the group’s Europe and Central Asia Division.

Speaking at a news conference in Moscow accompanying the publication of its annual report onhuman rights worldwide, Denber also criticized the government’s stance toward the West.

Since Putin started a six-year term in May, he has signed laws restricting protests, demanding foreign-funded non-governmental organizations register as “foreign agents,” and setting new rules on treason that critics say could place almost anyone who associates with foreigners at risk of prosecution.

Several opposition leaders and activists face potential prison terms if convicted on charges Putin’s critics say are trumped up. The president’s spokesman has denied the Kremlin uses courts and police to pressure critics.

“Measures to intimidate critics and restrict Russia’s vibrant civil society have reached unprecedented levels,” Hugh Williamson, director of HRW’s Europe and Central Asia Division, said in a statement.

“Pressure and reprisals against activists and non-governmental organizations need to stop.”

“This has been the worst year for human rights in Russia in recent history,” he said of 2012. The statement said the Kremlin “unleashed the worst political crackdown” since the breakup of the Soviet Union in 1991.

On Thursday evening, Moscow police dispersed protesters and detained about 30 activists who tried to demonstrate for the right to free assembly, which they say is routinely violated by the government.

HRW: CONCERNS ABOUT ARAB SPRING AFTERMATH

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said he had not read the report but that Russia would probably comment later and “show that the human rights situation in Russia is not the worst.”

He said the Russian ministry’s own annual reports have shown that “there are serious systemic problems in the sphere of human rights in the United States and many European Union countries.”

“Before you criticize others, you should look at yourself,” Lukashevich said at a weekly briefing.

The Human Rights Watch annual report also looked at developments in the Middle East and North Africa in the aftermath of the Arab Spring uprisings. It raised concerns about a possible return to non-democratic rule in some countries.

“The uncertainties of freedom are no reason to revert to the enforced predictability of authoritarian rule,” said the group’s director, Kenneth Roth. “The path ahead may be treacherous, but the alternative is to consign entire countries to a grim future of oppression.”

The report criticized Egypt’s new constitution, saying vague provisions on speech, religion, and the family had dangerous implications for women’s rights and the exercise of social freedoms protected under international law.

The constitution also reflects a seeming abandonment of efforts to exercise civilian control over the military, it added.

Elsewhere in the region, it said, Libya has become a “weak state” and the situation in Syria, where over 60,000 people have been killed in a nearly 2-year-long civil war, has deteriorated. Human Rights Watch urged the U.N. Security Council to overcome its impasse and refer the Syrian conflict to the International Criminal Court to investigate possible war crimes.

(Additional reporting by Steve Gutterman in Moscow and Louis Charbonneau in New York; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Doina Chiacu)

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By Alessandra Prentice | Reuters

Russia denies large Syria evacuation amid fighting.


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BEIRUT (AP) — Russia acknowledged Wednesday for the first time that it pulled the families of its diplomats out of Syria long ago, and rejected suggestions that the recent evacuation of dozens of its citizens marks the start of a larger rescue effort.

Inside Syria, fighting between rebels and forces loyal to President Bashar Assad raged around the capital Damascus and in the north of the country, killing at least 60 people, including six members of a single family who died in a government rocket attack, activists said.

Russia, a close Damascus ally for decades, has continued to be the main protector of the Assad regime since the start of the Syrian uprising, shielding it from U.N. sanctions over a bloody crackdown. Moscow also continued to provide Assad with weapons even as the uprising morphed into a civil war, adding to massive arsenals of Soviet and Russian weapons Damascus has received over previous decades.

Despite the escalating violence in Syria, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sought to play down the significance of the 77 Russian citizens who fled Syria a day earlier and returned to Moscow on two flights on Wednesday. He told reporters that about 1,000 Russians residing in Syria, mostly women married to Syrian men, contacted consular officials to express their interest in leaving the country. He said no large-scale evacuation of the tens of thousands of Russians still in the country was immediately planned.

However, Lavrov for the first time mentioned that families of Russian diplomats “left long ago.” He did not provide further details, but said that the embassy in Damascus is functioning normally.

Russia has recently started to distance itself from Assad, and a top diplomat acknowledged last month that the rebels might win the civil war. But the evacuation was the strongest sign yet of Moscow’s waning confidence in the ability of Assad to hold onto power as rebels gain momentum in their fight to oust the regime.

The fighting continued unabated inside Syria on Wednesday, with government airstrikes in the Damascus area and clashes and shelling in the southern province of Daraa and the central region of Homs, activists said.

In the northern province of Aleppo, a regime rocket hit the village of Abu Taltal, killing six members of a single family, including a man, his wife and their four children aged two to 11, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Local Coordination Committees.

Both groups rely on a network of activists on the ground and frequently report on government bombardment of rebel-dominated regions.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on the international community to declare the Syrian regime’s bombardment of its own citizens a war crime.

“There should be a clear signal to the Syrian regime that what they have been doing, bombarding cities by airplanes, is a war crime,” Davutoglu said. “The silence of the international community is killing people,” he added.

Once a Syrian ally, Turkey has become one of the regime’s harshest critics, and now shelters many of the opposition activists and defectors, including army officers, who have switched to the rebel side.

Syria’s conflict started 22 months ago as an uprising against Assad, whose family has ruled the country for four decades. It quickly turned into a civil war, with rebels taking up arms to fight back against a brutal government crackdown.

Despite recent loses of army bases and large swathes of land in the north along the border with Turkey, the regime has managed to keep its grip on the country in large part due to Assad’s airpower.

Also Wednesday, Human Rights Watch reported that armed opposition groups appeared to have deliberately destroyed religious sites in mixed areas of northern Syria in the last two months of last year.

The New York-based group said investigations showed an armed opposition group destroyed two churches in the coastal region of Latakia and a Shiite Muslim place of worship in the northwestern province of Idlib. Evidence and witness testimony suggested that all three attacks took place after the areas fell to opposition control and government forces had left, the group said.

Assad’s regime is dominated by members of his minority Alawite sect, an off-shoot of Shiite Islam, while most of the rebels are Sunni Muslims.

Mainly Sunni Islamic extremists have joined the rebels in their fight against Assad, including Jabhat al-Nusra. The U.S. says the group is linked to al-Qaida, and has declared it a terrorist organization.

Human Rights Watch previously documented the destruction and looting of a mosque in the town of Taftanaz in Idlib province by Syrian government forces.

“The destruction of religious sites is furthering sectarian fears and compounding the tragedies of the country, with tens of thousands killed,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at Human Rights Watch. “Syria will lose its rich cultural and religious diversity if armed groups do not respect places of worship. Leaders on both sides should send a message that those who attack these sites will be held accountable.”

____

Isachenkov reported from Moscow.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By BARBARA SURK and VLADIMIR ISACHENKOV | Associated Press

Russia moves to enact anti-gay law nationwide.


  • FILE - In this Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 file photo Russian gay right campaigner Pavel Samburov (center left) and five other gay rights activists kiss during a protest near the State Duma, Russia's lower parliament chamber, in Moscow, Russia. A controversial bill banning "homosexual propaganda" has been submitted to Russia's lower house of parliament for the first of three hearings Tuesday, Jan. 22. 2013. (AP Photo/Misha Japaridze, file)

    View PhotoAssociated Press/Misha Japaridze, file – FILE – In this Wednesday, Dec. 19, 2012 file photo Russian gay right campaigner Pavel Samburov (center left) and five other gay rights activists kiss during a protest …more 

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MOSCOW (AP) — Kissing his boyfriend during a protest in front of Russia’s parliament earned Pavel Samburov 30 hours of detention and the equivalent of a $16 fine on a charge of “hooliganism.” But if a bill that comes up for a first vote later this month becomes law, such a public kiss could be defined as illegal “homosexual propaganda” and bring a fine of up to $16,000.

The legislation being pushed by the Kremlin and the Russian Orthodox Church would make it illegal nationwide to provide minors with information that is defined as “propaganda of sodomy, lesbianism, bisexuality and transgenderism.” It includes a ban on holding public events that promote gay rights. St. Petersburg and a number of other Russian cities already have similar laws on their books.

The bill is part of an effort to promote traditional Russian values as opposed to Western liberalism, which the Kremlin and church see as corrupting Russian youth and by extension contributing to a wave of protest against President Vladimir Putin‘s rule.

Samburov describes the anti-gay bill as part of a Kremlin crackdown on minorities of any kind — political and religious as well as sexual — designed to divert public attention from growing discontent with Putin’s rule.

The lanky and longhaired Samburov is the founder of the Rainbow Association, which unites gay activists throughout Russia. The gay rights group has joined anti-Putin marches in Moscow over the past year, its rainbow flag waving along with those of other opposition groups.

Other laws that the Kremlin says are intended to protect young Russians have been hastily adopted in recent months, including some that allow banning and blocking web content and print publications that are deemed “extremist” or unfit for young audiences.

Denis Volkov, a sociologist with the Levada Center, an independent pollster, says the anti-gay bill fits the “general logic” of a government intent on limiting various rights.

But in this case, the move has been met mostly with either indifference or open enthusiasm by average Russians. Levada polls conducted last year show that almost two thirds of Russians find homosexuality “morally unacceptable and worth condemning.” About half are against gay rallies and same-sex marriage; almost a third think homosexuality is the result of “a sickness or a psychological trauma,” the Levada surveys show.

Russia’s widespread hostility to homosexuality is shared by the political and religious elite.

Lawmakers have accused gays of decreasing Russia’s already low birth rates and said they should be barred from government jobs, undergo forced medical treatment or be exiled. Orthodox activists criticized U.S. company PepsiCo for using a “gay” rainbow on cartons of its dairy products. An executive with a government-run television network said in a nationally televised talk show that gays should be prohibited from donating blood, sperm and organs for transplants, while after death their hearts should be burned or buried.

The anti-gay sentiment was seen Sunday in Voronezh, a city south of Moscow, where a handful of gay activists protesting against the parliament bill were attacked by a much larger group of anti-gay activists who hit them with snowballs.

The gay rights protest that won Samburov a fine took place in December. Seconds after Samburov and his boyfriend kissed, militant activists with the Orthodox Church pelted them with eggs. Police intervened, rounding up the gay activists and keeping them for 30 hours first in a frozen van and then in an unheated detention center. The Orthodox activists were also rounded up, but were released much earlier.

Those behind the bill say minors need to be protected from “homosexual propaganda” because they are unable to evaluate the information critically. “This propaganda goes through the mass media and public events that propagate homosexuality as normal behavior,” the bill reads.

Cities started adopting anti-gay laws in 2006. Only one person has been prosecuted so far under a law specifically targeted at gays: Nikolai Alexeyev, a gay rights campaigner, was fined the equivalent of $160 after a one-man protest last summer in St. Petersburg.

In November, a St. Petersburg court dismissed a lawsuit filed by the Trade Union of Russian Citizens, a small group of Orthodox conservatives and Putin loyalists, against pop star Madonna. The group sought $10.7 million in damages for what it says was “propaganda of perversion” when Madonna spoke up for gay rights during a show three months earlier.

The federal bill’s expected adoption comes 20 years after a Stalinist-era law punishing homosexuality with up to five years in prison was removed from Russia’s penal code as part of the democratic reforms that followed the Soviet Union’s collapse.

Most of the other former Soviet republics also decriminalized homosexuality, and attitudes toward gays have become a litmus test of democratic freedoms. While gay pride parades are held in the three former Soviet Baltic states, all today members of the European Union, same-sex love remains a crime in authoritarian Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

In Russia, gays have been whipsawed by official pressure and persistent homophobia. There are no reliable estimates of how many gays and lesbians live in Russia, and only a few big cities such as Moscow and St. Petersburg have gay nightclubs and gyms. Even there, gays do not feel secure.

When a dozen masked men entered a Moscow night club during a “coming out party” that campaigner Samburov organized in October, he thought they were part of the show. But then one of the masked men yelled, “Have you ordered up a fight? Here you go!” The men overturned tables, smashed dishes and beat, kicked and sprayed mace at the five dozen men and women who had gathered at the gay-friendly Freedays club, Samburov and the club’s administration said.

Four club patrons were injured, including a young woman who got broken glass in her eye, police said. Although a police station was nearby, Samburov said, it took police officers half an hour to arrive. The attackers remain unidentified.

On the next day, an Orthodox priest said he regretted that his religious role had not allowed him to participate in the beating.

“Until this scum gets off of Russian land, I fully share the views of those who are trying to purge our motherland of it,” Rev. Sergiy Rybko was quoted as saying by the Orthodoxy and World online magazine. “We either become a tolerant Western state where everything is allowed — and lose our Christianity and moral foundations — or we will be a Christian people who live in our God-protected land in purity and godliness.”

In other parts of Russia, gays feel even less secure. Bagaudin Abduljalilov moved to Moscow from Dagestan, a predominantly Muslim region in southern Russia where he says some gays have been beaten and had their hands cut off, sometimes by their own relatives, for bringing shame on their families.

“You don’t have any human rights down there,” he said. “Anything can be done to you with impunity.”

Shortly before moving to Moscow, Abduljalilov left Islam to become a Protestant Christian, but was expelled from a seminary after telling the dean he was gay. He also has had trouble finding a job as a television journalist because of discrimination against people from Dagestan.

“I love Russia, but I want another Russia,” said Abduljalilov, 30, who now works as a clerk. “It’s a pity I can’t spend my life on creative projects instead of banging my head against the wall and repeating, ‘I’m normal, I’m normal.’ “

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By MANSUR MIROVALEV | Associated Press

Thousands march to protest Russia’s adoption ban.


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MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of people marched through Moscow on Sunday 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 ofPresident 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 adoption ban has stoked the anger of the same middle-class, urban professionals who swelled the protest ranks last winter, when more than 100,000 people turned out for rallies 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 capitalize on the broad discontent.

Opponents of the adoption ban argue it victimizes children to make a political point. Eager to take advantage of this anger, the anti-Kremlin opposition has played the ban as further evidence that Putin and his parliament have lost the moral right to rule Russia.

The Kremlin, however, has used the adoption controversy to further its efforts to discredit the opposition as unpatriotic and in the pay of the Americans.

Sunday’s march may prove only a blip on what promises to be a long road for the protest movement, especially in the face of Kremlin efforts to stifle dissent. But it was a reunion of what has become known as Moscow’s creative class, whose sarcastic wit was once again on display on Sunday.

“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 U.S. 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 publicized 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 its 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 and who get their news mainly from Kremlin-controlled television.

Putin has turned his back on the new Internet generation in Moscow and other large cities, exacerbating a divide in Russian society that seems likely only to deepen in coming years.

Protests against the adoption ban were held Sunday in a number of other Russian cities, but in most places only a few dozen people took part. In St. Petersburg, about 1,000 people turned out to show their opposition to the law and to Putin. Some held up a poster that read “Don’t play politics using children.”

French actor Gerard Depardieu, who took Russian citizenship this month and considers Putin a friend, spoke out against the opposition in an interview shown Sunday on Russian state television. “The opposition has no program, nothing at all,” the actor said, echoing Putin. “There are very smart people like (former world chess champion Garry) Kasparov, but that’s only good for chess. And that’s it. But politics are a lot more complicated.”

The adoption ban also revived anger over the December 2011 parliamentary election, which independent observers said was won by Putin’s party through widespread fraud. A column of marchers on Sunday held a banner calling for the State Duma, the elected lower house, to be disbanded.

“The Duma that now adopts these kinds of laws is illegitimate. It was formed with the theft of 100 million votes,” said opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov, a former Duma member who lost his seat when independent members were ousted in 2007. “It doesn’t have the moral or political right to adopt laws for us. The disbanding of the Duma and the overturning of the law: That’s why people, including me, came out today.”

At the end of the protest, marchers dumped the posters of Putin and parliament members in an industrial-sized trash container that had “for disposal” scribbled on it.

Sunday’s protest had been authorized by the city government, which was one factor behind the high turnout. Several protesters were detained for what police said was violating public order, but all were later released. The Kremlin has sought to stifle dissent by imposing steep fines on those who take part in unauthorized protests and opening criminal investigations against popular protest leaders.

Just ahead of the weekend demonstration, Putin’s spokesman sought to ease anger over the adoption ban by announcing that some of the dozens of adoptions already under way could go forward, allowing children who have already bonded with American adoptive parents to leave the country.

UNICEF estimates there are about 740,000 children not in parental custody in Russia, while about 18,000 Russians are on the waiting list to adopt a child. Since the law banning American adoptions was passed, Russian political and religious leaders have been encouraging Russians to adopt more children.

Source: YAHOO NEWS.

By LYNN BERRY | Associated Press

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