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Russia: Opposition calls on voters to protest against Putin

March 17, 2024

The "Noon against Putin" protest was initially promoted by late opposition activist Alexei Navalny before his death. Protesters crowding polling stations at noon were joined by Navalny's widow Yulia, who is in Berlin.

People line up to attend voting during a presidential election in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, east of Moscow, Russia, Sunday, March 17, 2024.
Opposition have called on voters to crowd the polling stations at noon in protestImage: ASSOCIATED PRESS/picture alliance

Thousands of anti-Putin protesters staged a symbolic noon protest against the Russian president at polling stations on Sunday, the final day of voting in a three-day election certain to deliver him a landslide victory.

The human rights group OVD-Info said authorities have detained more than 65 people in cities across Russia for protest actions linked to the presidential election.

The vote started on Friday in a poll without real alternatives to Vladimir Putin.

Putin's fiercest political rival, Alexei Navalny, died in an Arctic prison last month and other critics are either in jail or in exile. 

Russia holds second day of presidential election

What happened at noon?

Voters were asked to crowd polling stations at exactly noon in Russia's 11 time zones to protest without endangering themselves by violating Moscow's strict anti-protest law.

Some Russians seemed to heed the calls, with news agencies noting an increase in the number of voters turning up at polling stations around noon, both inside Russia and at Russian diplomatic missions abroad. 

The Reuters news agency reported several hundreds turning up in Moscow and Yekaterinburg, though acknowledging it was difficult to tell whether the uptick in voters meant they were protesting, or reflected a high turn-out rate.

The French AFP news agency spoke to voters at the polling stations. Some confirmed they were there to answer the call for protest, while others reiterated support for Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is widely expected to win.

The "Noon against Putin" initiative posted on its Telegram account on Sunday photos of crowds lining up to vote, saying the protests were already taking place.

It shared photos showing crowds of voters purportedly in Novosibirsk and Yekaterinburg.

Navalyny's associates broadcast a video compiling comments by those who were at the polls to protest, blurring their faces to protect their identities. It was not possible to confirm whether those who showed up in the video were in fact protesters.

"The action has achieved its goals," Ivan Zhdanov, the head of Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, said in a YouTube broadcast. "The action has shown that there is another Russia, there are people who stand against Putin."

Long lines also formed around noon outside Russian diplomatic missions in Berlin, Paris, Milan, as well as other cities with large Russian communities.

Protesters were joined by Yulia Navalnaya, the widow of prominent opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who was the first to publicize the "Noon against Putin" protests.

Navalnaya joined the protests in Berlin. Kira Yarmysh, Navalny's spokesperson, posted photos of his widow standing in long queues in the German capital.

What do we know about 'Noon against Putin'?

The protest initiative was first endorsed by late opposition activist Alexei Navalny, before his death at a remote Arctic penal colony last month.

In social media posts on February 1, Navalny described the protest as "legal and safe" and called on all Putin opponents to join.

"The 'Noon Against Putin' action perfectly unites all the components. Voting, agitation, physical presence, and solidarity with those who will be with you at the polling station at that time," Navalny wrote at the time.

His widow Navalnaya had echoed his call, urging protesters to show up in large numbers at the same time to overwhelm polling stations.

She called on protesters to either spoil their ballots by writing "Navalny" on them or to vote for candidates other than Putin.

Protests mar presidential vote

Many protests have erupted since Russia's presidential election started on Friday. Several arrests have been made, including against Russians accused of pouring dye into ballot boxes and arson attacks.

The OVD-Info protest-monitoring group said on Sunday it counted about 65 arrests in 16 cities related to the presidential election.

Russia has over 114 million eligible voters. They include voters in four territories it illegally annexed from Ukraine in 2022.

By Saturday evening, over 63 million voters had gone to the polls, according to the Russian Central Election Committee.

rmt/sms (AFP, Reuters)