Tensions grow in Russian city amid rival rallies
ASTRAKHAN: Government supporters and the opposition staged rival protests in a southern Russian city on Saturday as tensions grew over alleged election fraud that prompted the losing candidate to go on a hunger strike.
Over 3,000 people shouted slogans in support of incumbent mayor and ruling party backer Mikhail Stolyarov whose victory in local elections in March has been denounced by the opposition as fraudulent, an AFP correspondent said. His challenger Oleg Shein from the opposition A Just Russia party has been on a hunger strike since March 16 in protest over the election results, and the issue has become a rallying cause for opponents of president-elect Vladimir Putin.
“With your support, under my management, everything will be done so that people live well. Thank you for coming today and working for our city to be better,” Stolyarov told the rally. Dozens of opposition activists have travelled to Astrakhan from Moscow for the weekend and their numbers now include well-known figures such as opposition leader Alexei Navalny and the television host Ksenia Sobchak.
The opposition had planned to hold their own rally in the same venue as the pro-Stolyarov meeting, a square in the city centre around a statue of the Stalin-era politician Sergei Kirov. afp