Thousands protest for freedom of the press

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The Independent Online

Thousands of people have gathered in central Moscow to voice support for freedom of the press in Russia.

Thousands of people gathered in a central Moscow square today to voice support for freedom of the press in Russia, especially embattled private NTV television.

At least 5,000 people came to a combination rock concert and political rally in defense of NTV, the only major Russian television station outside the control of the Kremlin.

The state–connected gas giant Gazprom has been trying for months to seize control of NTV, a move which the station claims is part of a Kremlin attack on freedom of the press.

Alexei Simonov, a prominent journalist and rally organizer, said the people came to hear rock music that was once censored and to hear speeches that were impossible under Soviet times.

"It is a gathering of people who want to listen to that music which they want and want to speak out what they think," he said at the beginning of the rally.

NTV is the flagship of the Media–Most company, which claims that President Vladimir Putin's administration is trying to stifle its criticism of the government in the courts.

"The Russian court system is finally returning to Soviet times," Media–Most said in a statement the night before the rally. "The decision of the court is already decided," the statement said. "It will agree to any, even the most absurd, demands of those who implement the so–called Czar's order the order of high power."

Among the prominent personalities expected at the rally were former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev and Grigory Yavlinsky, the head of the liberal Yabloko party.

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