Members of the liberal opposition in Russia have entered into a political coalition to challenge President Vladimir Putin's grip on power. They are calling for the release of political prisoners and new elections.
Two Russian opposition parties joined forces on Saturday hoping to create a united front against President Vladimir Putin, in the wake of the largest anti-Kremlin protests in over a decade.
The People's Freedom Party (PARNAS) and the Republican Party of Russia (RPR) united to create a political coalition called the RPR-PARNAS. Both parties have been the target of President Putin's crackdown on the political opposition in the past.
PARNAS was banned from participating in the December 2011 parliamentary elections, which ignited the current protest movement over allegations that electoral fraud handed the ruling United Russia party a legislative majority again. The RPR had lost its legal status in 2007 after a long court battle and was only allowed to re-register last May.
"Our main goal is a change in the country's political course. This can be achieved only via free elections," said PARNAS leader Mikhail Kasyanov, who served as Putin's prime minister from 2000-2004 before becoming a Kremlin critic.
Call for new elections
The RPR-PARNAS grouping has called on the Kremlin to release all political prisoners and hold new parliamentary and presidential elections in 2013. Putin secured his third term as president in March, after swapping the premiership with his protégé Dmitry Medvedev.
The opposition movement claims that the presidential elections, like the December parliamentary polls, were marred by fraud. Tens of thousands have taken to the streets of Moscow to protest President Putin's return to Russia's highest office.
Putin has promised the protesters modest reforms, relaxing registration requirements to allow more parties to compete in elections. But the president also recently signed off on legislation that will impose harsh fines, in some cases thousands of euros, for protests that disrupt public order.
Former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, also a PARNAS leader, compared Russia's current political climate to that in neighboring Belarus, led by strongman Alexander Lukashenko.
"This is the Lukashenisation of Russia," Nemtsov said. "This machine of violence will gain more strength."
slk/msh (AP, Reuters)