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(FYI) Reuter: Russians rally in defence of independent TV channel

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  • Norbert Strade
    Sunday April 1, 5:54 AM Russians rally in defence of independent TV channel By Ron Popeski MOSCOW (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters, many with signs
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 31, 2001
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      Sunday April 1, 5:54 AM

      Russians rally in defence of independent TV channel

      By Ron Popeski

      MOSCOW (Reuters) - Thousands of protesters, many with signs denouncing
      President Vladimir Putin, poured into a Moscow square on Saturday to defend
      Russia's sole independent national TV station from what they saw as official

      Prominent liberals told more than 10,000 people in Pushkin Square, traditional
      meeting place and site of protests even in Soviet times, that NTV television
      was in danger of being closed.

      The rally, interspersed with rock music, was one of the largest in years to be
      attended by Muscovites grown apathetic after political passions of the 1980s
      and early 1990s.

      Demonstrators carried green balloons or stuck green balls to their clothing,
      echoing NTV's green ball trademark. They spilled over into adjacent streets
      and perched on tree branches.

      "Mr President, leave NTV alone!" said one placard. Others had prison bars
      superimposed on the NTV logo.

      NTV's founder, businessman Vladimir Gusinsky, currently in Spain fighting
      extradition on fraud charges, is trying to fend off a takeover bid by state-
      dominated gas giant Gazprom. A shareholders' meeting next week may try to oust

      Liberals see the row, and legal action against NTV, as a test of Putin's
      commitment to press freedom and fair reporting of issues like Russia's war
      against separatist Chechnya.

      "We know why they want to destroy NTV. So that we will never know about
      millions of dollars taken out of the country...about how a war is being
      conducted with slogans of fighting terrorism and corruption," Grigory
      Yavlinsky, leader of the Yabloko party, told the gathering.

      "We know that this is not about fighting terrorists and corruption but about
      the fight for press freedom."

      NTV has earned a reputation as a critic of Kremlin policies, particularly
      Russia's two military campaigns against Chechnya. It has accused Putin of
      chipping away at individual freedoms in a little more than a year in office.


      Yevgeny Kiselyov, NTV's general director and anchor of its flagship news
      programme, said the station could be closed soon.

      "It's quite serious. I am going to present my own programme on Sunday and this
      one could be the last. It is very simple -- a new management could do
      anything," he told reporters. "Those who say this is a financial dispute are
      either idiots or liars. It's about freedom of the press, of society, of

      Sergei Parkhomenko, editor of the weekly Itogi magazine, said the rally "shows
      we have support. Political leaders will be furious. But maybe those police in
      masks carrying out raids on our offices will think twice about what they are

      Musicians and athletes also spoke in defence of NTV during the two-hour
      gathering in bright spring sunshine.

      Demonstrators at one point watched figures from NTV's weekly satirical
      "Puppets" show on a big screen. Putin's puppet likeness, dressed in skiing
      gear in an allusion to frequent outings on the slopes, welcomed people to the

      The rally had been given wide publicity all week on NTV and on radio stations
      and newspapers in Gusinsky's Media-Most group.

      But Russia's other two national television networks, state RTR television and
      ORT public television, ignored the gathering in their Saturday afternoon news

      Many rally participants were pleased at the large turnout.

      "I just wanted to do my bit for NTV," said Maya, a museum worker in her
      sixties. "It was so good to look around at all the faces of people who had
      clearly thought about all these issues."
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