Astrakhan protesters continue hunger strike, ex-mayor candidate files suit against vote result
16.04.12 17:16 By Olga Kuzmenkova reporting from Astrakhan, edited by Karina Ayvazova
Several thousand people gathered in the center of Astrakhan to support Oleg Shein Photo: itar-tass
Oleg Shein, the former mayoral candidate in the city of Astrakhan, has filed a suit against the results of the election, saying they were rigged, RIA Novosti reported Monday. The court has registered the case.
Shein presented numerous materials, including videos from web cameras installed in voting stations, which according to Shein, recorded the violations during the vote and ballot counting.
Earlier, while responding to the question of why Shein had not filed a suit closer to the March 4 election date, Shein said he needed videos from cameras as proof of violations. The Central Elections commission
The date of hearings has not been announced yet.
According to the official results, the winner of the vote was the United Russia party candidate, Mikhail Stolyarov, with 60% of the votes. Shein, who represents "A Just Russia" party, gained 29.96%. He and his supporters claim the vote was rigged. To protests against vote rigging, Oleg Shein and his supporters began a hunger strike on March 16, which they are still observing. On Monday Shein said he would not end the strike.
On Saturday thousands of Astrakhan residents and opposition activists from other Russian cities gathered in the center of this southern city to support Shein. They started an unauthorized march and State Duma deputies even started fights with the police. Opposition activists tried to setup tents, but were dispersed by police.
Almost all A Just Russia Duma deputies arrived in Astrakhan to support their co-party member Shein at a planned rally, including party head Nikolay Levichev and the party's informal leader Sergey Mironov. They were all wearing T-Shirts with Shein's portrait on them and a slogan "Oleg, we are with you!"
Astrakhan police prepared for the rally carefully- - they closed sidewalks to the main city square and the monument to Kirov, which had become the gathering spot for the opposition throughout the week.
Simultaneous to the rally, Shein was holding a press conference during which he was showing the videos from voting stations. One video showed how a head of a voting station was counting ballot papers alone, without showing others the votes. After recounting these ballot papers, it became clear that pro-Shein papers were put together with pro-Stolyarov votes.
Shein strives to obtain more such videos from the CEC. At first, he was denied access to these videos, but then was allowed to download videos from the CEC website.
Shein and his party colleagues then decided to go to downtown Astrakhan and take part in the rally. However, the police did not let anyone into the rally spot, saying they were ordered to let only State Duma deputies go there.
The deputies then started debating with police asking who gave them the order. Levichev started a scandal and in the end he broke the cordon and went to the rally spot.
The rally started near the headquarters of the strikers. People holding white balloons and wearing white ribbons were approaching the building and were chanting "Shein is our mayor!"
The activists then started a march towards the city administration office, where police were already waiting.
Levichev took a megaphone and addressed the opposition activists. He called the situation in Astrakhan a "sacrilege" and asked the police to move out of the protesters' way. Surprisingly, the guards dispersed and let them go further. Levichev, Shein, and their supporters moved towards the city Kremlin. All were reminded of 2007 when opposition rallies first started in Russia.
"I think there are some 5000 people here. This has not happened since 1996," Shein said, laughing. "Why are we going to the Kremlin? Because it is the heart of the city."
The protesters reached the Kirov monument square and started the rally there. The deputies addressed the police via megaphones. "We are holding a meeting of State Duma deputies with the electorate," said Mironov. That meant that police could not disperse them, because according to the Russian law, such meetings are not necessarily to be approved by authorities.
Such opposition activists as Alexey Navalny, Ilya Yashin, Ksenia Sobchak spoke during the rally.
The crowd started to chant slogans for Shein so that he would stop his hunger strike.
"I am thankful to you all, but I would wait a little more," Shein said.
A small part of the crowd then headed to the mayor's office. When one of the activists tried to set a tent, the police fired tear gas.
Then, the rest of opposition activists headed towards the mayor's office, however, the street leading there was closed off by police. Shein did not allow the protesters to break the cordon and led them instead towards the Volga embankment. "We are walking! We are sightseeing!" chanted the deputy.
"Show us more of Astrakhan," activists from Moscow replied.
Several thousand people filled the square near the Kremlin and Shein did not know exactly what to do with them.
He advised them to come back in a week.
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