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Moscow Times
May 5, 2003
Oligarchs Get May Day Lashing
By Nabi Abdullaev
Staff Writer

As tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets waving bright flags and banners for the May Day holiday, politicians sensed an opportunity to drum up support ahead of December parliamentary elections and angrily accused the government of catering to wealthy businessmen while neglecting the public.

While anti-government and anti-capitalist rhetoric is an annual tradition for Communists and nationalists, the powerful pro-Kremlin camp unexpectedly weighed in Thursday with harsh criticism of its own.

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, a leading member of the pro-presidential United Russia party, castigated the government at a rally of 25,000 people on Tverskaya Ploshchad.

"The current government is not committed to the needs of the real sector of the economy and is only serving the oligarchs. This is a disgrace," said Luzhkov, surrounded by city officials and trade union leaders.

Talking about Russia's ascension to the World Trade Organization, a key goal in President Vladimir Putin's package of Western-style economic reforms, Luzhkov said the oligarchs who control Russia's mineral resources would ultimately benefit and noncompetitive industries would collapse.

"Government officials, stop what you are doing and start to think," Luzhkov told the crowd, which included members of United Russia, the pro-Kremlin Party of Life and the liberal Yabloko party.

Later that day, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov echoed Luzhkov in an address to some 12,000 people at Lubyanskaya Ploshchad.

"We don't have a government of the people. We have a government of the oligarchs," he said. "The country is turning into a source of raw materials for developed countries. There is no social justice."

In an apparent attempt to court the younger generation, the Communists, traditionally a stronghold of disgruntled pensioners, wound up their rally with a rock concert in the shadow of the old KGB headquarters.

United Russia's youth wing held its own rally near Red Square, and speakers once again poured scorn on the oligarchs.

One young speaker told the crowd that he feels ashamed of his generation when he sees "golden boys with homosexual tastes and silicon girls who serve as the pets of bankers and oligarchs."

United Russia also organized a pop concert.

The liberal Union of Right Forces party found a rather creative way to criticize the government. Its march of 2,000 people came complete with a BMW sedan with five flashing blue lights being pulled on ropes by demonstrators. The car was a nod to the flashing blue lights on vehicles used by government officials -- which allow them to ignore traffic regulations. The Union of the Right Forces has been pushing for rules to restrict the use of the lights.

Trade unions boasted the largest turnouts Thursday, with the main organizer, the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia, saying more than 2 million members participated in rallies across the country, Interfax reported. Demonstrators called for higher salaries and price cuts in housing and transportation.

"Our slogans do not include any demands for the ouster of the government," Federation of Independent Trade Unions head Mikhail Shmakov was quoted by Interfax as saying Thursday.

In total, 43,000 people took part in rallies and marches in Moscow, and 3,000 police officers were on the streets to maintain order, the police said. No accidents or clashes were reported.

Demonstrations were held in 76 of Russia's 89 regions, with the largest drawing about 47,000 people in Yakutsk in the northern Sakha republic, Interfax said. The turnout represented about a fifth of Yakutsk's population of 226,000.

About 45 percent of Russians continue to think that as in Soviet times May Day is a major event symbolizing the worldwide unity of the working class, according to a recent poll by the Public Opinion Foundation. However, a similar percentage of the 1,500 people polled said May Day is just a day off work.

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