Anti-Putin protesters battle cold and divisions

Thu Feb 2, 2012 12:30pm GMT

By Timothy Heritage

MOSCOW (Reuters) - It took several minutes and a woolly hat to resolve the latest differences among the loose alliance of Russian opposition groups challenging Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.

Unable to agree on the order of a protest march through Moscow on Saturday, the organisers, gathered round a few tables shoved together in a crowded Moscow cultural centre, borrowed the hat from a woman bystander and drew lots from it.

A row was averted. Non-affiliated protesters will lead the march, increasing pressure on Putin to allow free elections and open up the political system, and they will be followed by liberals, right-wing groups and nationalists.

The many groups behind the biggest protests since Putin rose to power disagree on more than they agree on, and their chaotic meetings are often an exercise in conflict resolution.

Fearing the Kremlin will exploit any public differences, they are keeping their political demands and sensitive political discussions to a minimum to help maintain the fragile unity.

"A coalition as broad as this can only concentrate on achieving one goal," said Maxim Blant, a journalist debating the protest movement with other civic activists during a political discussion one snowy evening this week.

"The groups involved all want a level playing field for political competition in Russia. This unites them even though they have different values otherwise. They understand the rules of the game - they must focus on the one goal that unites them."

TEST OF MOMENTUM   Continued...

A banner, set by members of the Solidarnost ("Solidarity") opposition movement is seen hanging on the roof of a building opposite the Kremlin across the Moskva River, as they protest against the policies conducted by Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin, in central Moscow February 1, 2012. REUTERS/Denis Sinyakov
Powered by Reuters AlertNet. AlertNet provides news, images and insight from the world's disasters and conflicts and is brought to you by Reuters Foundation.