Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The New Old Russia

Is it a coincidence that the Bush administration suddenly initiated a middle east peace process while democracy is going down the drain in Russia? Not long ago Putin and Bush were declaring that they were on the same page. Oh how times and people change... or do they?

This is a story the world should be carefully watching.

Australian Broadcast Corporation reports:

Russia's presidential election campaign has kicked off on the eve of parliamentary polls, as aides to Garry Kasparov say the chess legend turned Kremlin critic is being held incommunicado since his jailing last Saturday.

The campaign to replace outgoing President Vladimir Putin began officially with the formal announcement of the March 2 election date in the state newspaper, Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

So far only about a dozen figures with marginal public support have launched a bid, leaving the country waiting for Mr Putin to name his preferred successor - and to explain whether he will really leave power.

Mr Putin, who is not allowed to seek a third consecutive term next year, hopes to see his United Russia party score a massive victory in parliamentary elections.

As controversy grew over the fairness of the polls, aides to Mr Kasparov, arrested during a banned opposition rally in Moscow last Saturday, complained he had been barred access to lawyers and visitors.

"I've tried twice to see my client but I've not been authorised to do that. The officials at the Moscow city police headquarters never explained why and this contradicts all norms of international law," lawyer Olga Mikhailova said.

Kasparov aide Marina Litvinovich says that officially the opposition leader is being held at 38 Petrovka, the address of Moscow city police headquarters.

"However, no one can confirm this because they won't let anyone in to see him," she said.

Also barred from visiting Mr Kasparov are parliament member Vladimir Ryzhkov and Mr Kasparov's longtime bitter chess rival Anatoly Karpov, who is a member of a state-backed civil watchdog. Both men have the right under Russian law to make prison visits.

A city police spokesman told AFP he could not comment.

Mr Kasparov, considered by many the greatest chess player in history and now a bitter opponent of Mr Putin, was arrested while leading an unauthorised protest march and sentenced to five days jail.

The following day some 200 activists were arrested at a similar rally in Saint Petersburg.

US President George W Bush said he was "deeply concerned" by the crackdown.

Reuters is reporting that Amnesty International is calling for the immediate release of Kasparov and his supporters.

"Amnesty International considers him to be a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate release," the rights group said in a statement titled "Russian Federation: systematic repression on eve of elections".

"Several witnesses told Amnesty International that they had overheard conversations among the police indicating that it had been planned in advance of the march to detain Garry Kasparov."

U.S. President George W. Bush has said he was deeply concerned about the detention of rights activists and political leaders at opposition rallies over the weekend in Moscow and St. Petersburg.

Putin has accused Washington of plotting to undermine the elections and warned foreign states to keep "their snotty noses" out of Russian affairs. He said the elections would be democratic and transparent.

But Amnesty said Russia was making it almost impossible to express dissent.

"The silencing of media and human rights defenders, the harassment and ill-treatment of those who highlight human rights violations or those who express dissent, is unacceptable," Nicola Duckworth, Amnesty's program director for Europe and Central Asia, said in a statement.

In an Oct., 2007 interview with Bill Maher on his program "Real Time", Garry Kasparov discussed the Russian election, Putin, Bush, and oil prices. Today his words seem positively prophetic.

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