Russia awaits day of protest

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The Independent Online
TENS OF thousands of police and soldiers will flood the streets of Russia's main cities today for what trade union leaders say will be the biggest mass demonstration since the end of the Soviet Union.

The organisers of the long-awaited day of action predict that at least 28 million people will join strikes and marches, including huge gatherings at Red Square and outside the Winter Palace in St Petersburg.

Although these figures are certain to prove an exaggeration, the Russian authorities have been making anxious preparations. Last night the Prime Minister, Yevgeny Primakov, was planning a televised appearance in the hope of pacifying the population by unveiling plans for resolving Russia's economic crisis.

Many schools will close for the day, and one Russian airline, Vnukovo, has cancelled all flights. The American embassy in Moscow, mindful of current anti-Western sentiment, has tightened its security.

Attention will focus on whether the demonstrators include a wide social cross-section rather than just theflag-flourishing Communists, Stalinists, pensioners and assorted fascists who usually turn out for such rallies.

The reasons to protest have markedly grown since about two million took part in the last big demonstration last March. The banking system is frozen, prices have tripled with the collapse in the rouble, inflation last month was nearly 40 per cent, and wage and pension arrears run into billions of dollars.

In Moscow alone, several hundred thousand people have lost their jobs. Russia is lobbying the International Monetary Fund for more money as its tax base shrinks, so far without success. Amid this chaos, winter is closing in, and, to date, there is no sign that the Primakov government can escape the crisis.