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City news, 22.02.2008 10:41

St. Petersburg bans opposition rally set for day after election

Authorities in St. Petersburg have banned opposition coalition The Other Russia from holding a "dissenters' march" in the city center on March 3, the day after the country's presidential election.

The demonstrations, which were to be led by Kremlin critics chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov and radical writer Eduard Limonov, were set to take place near Oktyabrsky Grand Concert Hall at 5.00 p.m. local time [2 p.m. GMT].

On March 2, Russia will elect a new president to replace Vladimir Putin. His close ally, First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, is widely expected to gain an overwhelming victory.

St. Petersburg officials explained their ban of the opposition march saying it would disturb tourists and hold up public transport.

Ex-premier Mikhail Kasyanov earlier said he could join the march. Kasyanov was denied registration as a presidential contender after the Central Election Commission ruled that over 13% of the signatures collected to support his bid were either fake or unverifiable.

The head of St. Petersburg office of Kasparov's United Civil Front said no alternative sites or routes had been offered by the authorities, and that the ban was 'unprecedented.'

"They have refused to let us stage this event, and have not offered another route. This is a direct violation of the constitution and of federal laws," Olga Kurnosova told RIA Novosti.

She said that in June last year local authorities had authorized the opposition to hold the rally at the same place. "Nothing has changed since then, but now our application has been turned down," Kurnosova said.

In late November, several dozen people were detained at an unauthorized protest rally in St. Petersburg, organized by the opposition, for an attempt to provoke clashes with the police. Similar marches have previously been held in St. Petersburg, Moscow, Nizhny Novgorod, and Samara during the Russia-EU summit.

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