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Anti-corruption rally floods Moscow streets

| Sunday, Dec. 25, 2011

MOSCOW -- As many as 100,000 people braved Moscow's freezing temperatures on Saturday to join in a demonstration demanding an end to the corruption they say pervades all aspects of Russia's political life. It was the largest expression yet of unhappiness with the 12-year rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

The protests that have shaken the country in recent weeks have already won promises of major reforms.Yesterday, protesters said promises were not enough. The crowd, made up of people of varying ages and backgrounds, roared approval at demands for clean elections and an end to Putin's rule.

Few protesters said they held out hope for rapid changes. But they also said they had no plans to go away, and many of the young, previously apolitical protesters said they had decided they would no longer stay silent.

The rally far exceeded the size of one held two weeks ago at which the large turnout surprised even the activists who planned it. Organizers estimated that 120,000 people came to yesterday's protest. The Interior Ministry put the number at 29,000.

"A lot of people here, they don't want a revolution," said protester Daniel Gitelson, 24, a medical resident, who said he had never taken part in a protest before the one two weeks ago. "But Putin wants despotism," he said.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Gorbachev called on Putin not to seek a third term as president next year.

Gorbachev told Moscow Echo radio: "I would advise Vladimir Putin to leave now. He has had three terms: two as president and one as prime minister. Three terms - that is enough."

The protest movement's strengths and weaknesses were on display, as many of the young, middle-class people who have been the driving force behind the sudden show of discontent this month said they remained cautious about politics in general even as they thought the country needed to change. Many said they felt that, with enough pressure, they could bring about change within a few years.

"We don't know who the leader might be, because there is no person who represents us," Viktor Shenderovich, a popular writer, told the crowd. "But this is an expression of moral attitude. People don't want to be stepped on."

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