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Thousands Of Protesters Arrested In Russia For Demanding Fair Local Elections

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Moscow, police arrested at first dozens, then hundreds and eventually more than a thousand people demonstrating there in support of allowing opposition candidates to run in local elections. It's been one of the biggest crackdowns in Vladimir Putin's Russia. Evan Gershkovich is a reporter with The Moscow Times, and he joins us now. Good morning.

EVAN GERSHKOVICH: Morning, Lulu. Thanks for having me on.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What's the latest on today's protests? Are there more on the streets, or did yesterday's arrests deter action?

GERSHKOVICH: So the protests are going to pick up again in a week. These protests started again two weeks ago. And at first, they were going every day. There were daily protests, one each evening after work with a big protest scheduled last week. About 20,000 people came out for that one. And then they took a week off and came out again yesterday. At the end of the protest, the opposition leaders called for another one next Saturday. The idea is that they're going to keep coming out regularly, but they are, you know, trying to stretch it out as long as possible.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: What happened to the protesters that were arrested? Do we know?

GERSHKOVICH: Usually what happens is that they get detained for about, you know, 10 to 12 hours and then released. Some get fines, and then there are a few who are still in prison waiting for court hearings on Monday; not exactly sure about the number, but it's not that many. Most people actually were released by the - about midnight or 2 a.m. yesterday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So we know that the issue is about city councils, which seem such a basic thing, city councils - why won't electoral authorities let some of the opposition candidates run?

GERSHKOVICH: That's a good question because most outside analysts, you know, have looked at this and said, you know, all of this anger would have dissipated way longer ago if you would just let a few through. Some of the speculation is that last year when Kremlin-backed gubernatorial elections were taking place across the country, a bunch of them lost. And so the Kremlin is apparently quite nervous about any sort of non-Kremlin candidates going through. There has been economic stagnation for the past few years here. And Vladimir Putin's and the ruling United Russia Party's ratings have been dropping steadily. And so any sort of opposition, at the moment, is worrying for the Kremlin.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Is this a sign the Russians are turning against Putin's government?

GERSHKOVICH: I mean, it's a bit early to say. I think one of the interesting things about this protest is that, as you said, these elections are ostensibly - you know, it's a really small election. They're quite meaningless. The Moscow city council doesn't even get access to the city's budget, but it's united quite a large group of people. Last night, there were about 10,000 people out in the street. The week before, there were 20,000. So I think it shows it's a sort of gauge of the temperature, more or less, that people are frustrated about something. But to say turning against the government is quite strong. I mean, Moscow is a city of 11 million people, and we saw 10,000 people on the streets yesterday.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And just briefly, what's been the reaction from the American government, if any?

GERSHKOVICH: I haven't seen any and haven't seen any from England either. There have been calls from opposition activists here for Boris Johnson to speak about it, and I haven't seen anything from Jon Huntsman, the American ambassador.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: That's Evan Gershkovich of The Moscow Times. Thank you so much.

GERSHKOVICH: Thanks for having me on, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.