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Russia LiveBlog: The White-Ribbon Protests

An aerial camera captures the scale of protest in Moscow today

See also Russia Feature: Putin Accused --- Large Protests on Saturday?

EA is working with INN to provide live coverage of today's protests in Russia:

17:35 GMT: Ridus News posts a series of remarkable photographs from today in Moscow taken from a radio-controlled helicopter above the demonstration.

16:58 GMT: Major rally planned in Irkutsk next Saturday.

Up to 1000 demonstrators were present today in Irkutsk (see video 16:25 GMT entry) chanting for fair elections. In an interview with RFI, protest coordinator Alexey Petrov noted the large turnout from university students, making up close to two-thirds of those present. The rally was intended to be the forerunner to a much larger event in Irkutsk next Saturday. Flyers advertising the December 17th demonstration were handed out to protesters and passersby, with Petrov hoping that they "will spread this information throughout the city".

16:25 GMT: Videos of demonstrations from Moscow:

St Petersburg:

and Irkutsk:

15:05 GMT: Nearly an hour after the officially sanctioned time for the Moscow protest to end, many demonstrators have now returned home, although thousands are still massed in the city. The atmosphere throughout the day is reported as lively and optimistic with little indication of any real disturbances.

Whilst some arrests have been reported in St Petersburg, so far there is no repeat of the mass arrests which took place earlier in the week, despite a strong police presence in Moscow.

Mark Mackinnon tweets this picture of police:

The Guardian posts a translation of the official demands from the protest organisers:

1. Freedom for political prisoners
2. Annulment of the election results
3. The resignation of Vladimir Churov, head of the election commission, and an official investigation of vote fraud
4. Registration of the opposition parties and new democratic legislation on parties and elections
5. New democratic and open elections

Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov has called for fresh protests across Russia on December 24th. Given the scale of todays demonstrations, Ryzhkov's claim that the turnout will be doubled may not be too much of an exaggeration.

14:05 GMT: The Guardian reports that 10,000 protesters have assembled in Pioneer Square in St Petersburg according to the organisers there. reports on the size of other protests outside Moscow:

Thousands citizens protested against the election fraud in many cities of Russia. The highest attended rallies happened in Novosibirsk, Ekaterinburg, Omsk, Kazan and Voronezh.

The Novosibirsk Police Department says there were 3,000 protesters in Novosibirsk at a rally organized by the CPRF (communist party).

In Ekaterinburg, police estimate the number of participants as 800, the protesters say 2,000.

There were also protests in Kaliningrad, Arkhangelsk, Nizhni Tagil, Kurgan, Chuvashiya, Bryansk, Ulyanovsk, Krasnodar and Tula.

13:45 GMT: John Horne taking over the liveblog.

Estimates of crowd size in Moscow continue to rise. Tony Halpin reports on twitter: "organizers claim 85,000 at protest, Golos say 50k. It's definitely more than 35k who said they'd come on Facebook."

Journalist Mark Mackinnon tweets a photo of the assembled protesters, with a banner unfurled reading "Free @navalny", referring to the arrest and 15 day sentence on Monday of prominent blogger and Putin critic Alexey Navalny. The alleged political intent behind Navalny's arrest is rapidly turning him into a key figure in the current unrest. Fake twitter accounts and posts in his name began to emerge across the week, suggesting an organised attempt to discredit his growing status.

The BBC posts a gallery of the protests happening across Russia.

1135 GMT: BBC reports tens of thousands in Bolotnaya Square.

Tens of thousands are gathering in a square south of the Kremlin, in the latest show of anger over disputed parliamentary polls.

Smaller rallies are taking place in cities across the country.

Protesters allege there was widespread fraud in Sunday's polls - though the ruling United Russia party saw its share of the vote fall sharply.

Hundreds of people have been arrested during anti-Putin protests over the past week, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg.

At least 50,000 police and riot troops have been deployed in Moscow ahead of Saturday's protests.

Authorities have permitted up to 30,000 to attend the demonstration dubbed "For Fair Elections".

Earlier, several hundred people marched in Vladivostok, seven timezones to the east of Moscow.

1048 GMT: Andrew Osborn of The Daily Telegraph has been live-tweeting this morning from Moscow, prior to heading out towards Revolution Square to cover the protests:

Anti-Kremlin rally in Vladivostok in Russia's Far East reportedly attracted about 500 people, in Barnaul about 1,000 people....10-30 people reported arrested in Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk after police reportedly told protestors to go home after just 10 minutes....Seems that Russian actress Chulpan Khamatova is set to play a prominent role in today's Moscow protest.

Later, as protests build:

Fairly heavy snow falling, crowd walking peacefully from revolution square to demo venue. Surly cop says all quiet so far much of central moscow cordoned off heavy police presence. Police wearing helmets with visors and black protective body vests.

Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov has just walked past surrounded by media posse. Just saw masked girl holding a nationalist flag, "God is with us." Some of riot police wearing black rollerball style shoulder armour, it is still snowing. There's quite a bit of whistle blowing goingon,some but by no means all have white ribbons attached to clothing. There are some red commie flags too, wide range of age groups. Sky is really grey, a helicopter is hovering overhead as the Kremlin's eye in the sky.

1048 GMT: 80 Cities and Towns. Al Jazeera English Aljazeera English reports in this video that 80 cities and towns in Russia are expecting protests. They also report that officers from the interior ministry are present to monitor the situation.

1016 GMT: Reports of crowds building up in various squares.

Tony Halpin, Moscow correspondent for The Times tweets, "...there is a very big crowd here and more coming all the time. Square is on an island - easy to seal off if police choose to..."

Andrew Osborn, Moscow correspondent for The Daily Telegraph tweets, "Fairly heavy snow falling, crowd walking peacefully from revolution square to demo venue..."

0955 GMT: Multiple reports are coming in of heavy riot police presence throughout Moscow.

0951 GMT: Livestream of demonstration in Voronezh

0941 GMT: Arrests Watch.

MSNBC reports:

In Vladivostok, several hundred protesters rallied along a waterside avenue where some of Russia's Pacific Fleet warships are docked. They shouted "Putin's a louse" and some held a banner caricaturing United Russia's emblem, reading "The rats must go."

Police stayed on the fringes of the demonstration and made no arrests. But the Interfax news agency reported that an unsanctioned flash-mob protest in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk was broken up by police, who arrested about half the 60 participants.

0855 GMT: Limited but discouraged protests permitted. The New York Times reports that the Kremlin has decided to allow limited protests of up to 30,000 people but is discouraging it.

The authorities have granted permission for a demonstration of up to 30,000 people on Saturday, a decision that by all accounts is unparalleled in Mr. Putin’s 12-year reign. But they are also taking measures meant to discourage attendance.

In one such attempt, Russia’s chief public health official, Gennady Onishchenko, warned on Friday that protesters risked getting sick. “Given the heightened rate of illness now observed, mass gatherings of people on the street could promote the transmission of respiratory infections,” he said, according to the Ria Novosti news agency.

An anonymous law enforcement source also told the Interfax news agency that officers would be looking for draft dodgers at the protest.

Moscow’s department of education sent out a directive on Friday requiring students in grades 9 through 11 to report for a mandatory Russian exam on Saturday during the time of the protest.

After the test, “headmasters will conduct an extra class with students about the rules of safe behavior in the city,” said the directive, which was published by several Russian news agencies.

And on the botnet attacks on Twitter:

Twitter posts about the protests were swamped by pro-government comments, the BBC reported, quoting Internet security experts who said that many of the messages appeared to come from a network of hijacked computers, or a botnet.

Read full LiveBlog....

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