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Russians protest Putin's rule -

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This year, despots across the Middle East toppled in the face of mass protests. Now pro-democratic
forces are stirring in Russia.

Transcript

CHRIS UHLMANN, PRESENTER: This year, despots toppled in the face of mass protests. Now
pro-democratic forces are stirring in Russia.

The ruling United Russia Party narrowly won the December 4 election but it was marred by widespread
reports of fraud. In recent weeks young, internet savvy Russians have taken to the streets in
record numbers, aiming to end Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 12 year rule.

Moscow correspondent, Norman Hermant reports.

NORMAN HERMANT, REPORTER: In Vladimir Putin's Russia, no-one had ever seen anything remotely
approaching this, opposition demonstrations so big, in Moscow crowds overflowed the approved
protest area, jamming bridges and side streets.

All across the country, tens of thousands joined the protests, outraged over allegations that the
ruling United Russia Party stalled parliamentary elections.

Even rally organisers seemed stunned by the turnout. In the days and nights that followed they have
been busy planning their next move.

YEVEGNIA CHIRIKOVA, OPPOSITION LEADER: It is a very important time in our Russian history because
during a long, long time, 10 years maybe, ordinary people don't come to the street and don't show
his position.

NORMAN HERMANT: In fact, so many people came to the streets, something truly extraordinary
happened. Even state controlled television channels reported on the anti-government rallies.

It's as if years of government media control and public political apathy melted away in a matter of
hours.

Many analysts still aren't sure what it all means.

ALEXI MALASHENKO, CARNEGIE CENTRE, MOSCOW: I don't know. I don't know, and nobody knows here
because here there are so many speculations about the future, about how to go, how to develop.

NORMAN HERMANT: As for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, he used his annual nationwide call in show to
say the mass protests didn't bother him.

He even claimed he was happy to see people express their views. But he also spoke about ominous
foreign elements that maybe trying to spark a so-called colour revolution in Russia

VLADIMIR PUTIN, RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER (translated): We knew about the Orange Revolution in
Ukraine. By the way, some of our opposition activists were in Ukraine and were working there as
official advisers of then President Yukashenko. They are naturally transferring this experience to
the Russian soil.

NORMAN HERMANT: One thing those following Russian politics do know, the internet has changed
everything, especially for the politically active fringe in Russia's big cities.

Sasha is a popular blogger who says lessons have been learned from the Arab Spring. Social media
can play a role that state controlled broadcasters won't.

SASHA, INTERNET BLOGGER (translated): People, not even those who are politically minded, can see
ads for meetings that will never be publicised in the mass media because this is a sort of censored
TV.

Heaps of journalists say they are being hushed up.

NORMAN HERMANT: Bloggers like Sasha have dramatically altered the landscape for the politically
active. Right now he is reaching out to his network of bloggers on our behalf to talk about how
social media has changed political debate here.

Many bloggers still fear speaking out offline but Rostislav agrees to speak with us. He says
Moscow's huge opposition rally is proof that social media can generate people power. Without it, he
says, the post election protest would have struggled to make headlines.

ROSTISLAV, INTERNET BLOGGER (translated): It would have got together 3,000 people maximum, I think.
Everyone was sending messages to me. I personally got about five invitations from different people
within 24 hours to go to this rally.

All that spreads very quickly.

NORMAN HERMANT: In the Internet cafes of Moscow, for the young and text savvy, sites like Facebook
have become the equivalent of the kitchen of Soviet times, a place where people meet to talk about
subjects that aren't mentioned in public.

ANDREI SOLDATOV, JOURNALIST, AGGENTURA.RU: There is not trust with traditional media at all. That's
why people now got used to find not only a place for discussion, but as a place to gather news on
Facebook.

NORMAN HERMANT: It's not only in internet forums where the Kremlin's grip on what Russians see and
hear is being challenged. This is Dozhd TV, two years old with a largely young staff, a consciously
hip image and most importantly a sense of independent news and analysis.

For this station and a handful of other media outlets free of state control, the months ahead will
not be easy.

MIKHAIL ZYGAR, CHIEF EDITOR, DOZHD TV: No, we all feel some kind of pressure because we all feel
that something is changing, just it's in the air.

We have to tell what audience want and needs to hear and we have to persuade the authorities that
that's normal, to have such coverage and that's normal to have such media.

NORMAN HERMANT: Despite the nationwide protests against the government, the opposition faces big
challenges. For one thing, it's divided by in-fighting and rivalries.

There is no one acknowledged leader to challenge the Kremlin. The timing of when this is all
happening is another potential obstacle.

ALEXEI MALASHENKO, CARNEIGIE CENTRE, MOSCOW: One of the reasons, very primitive and very simple, is
holiday. And a lot of participants will leave Russia for vacancies and meanwhile people will stay
here in Kremlin and they will do their best to keep their positions.

(Chants from the crowds rallying)

NORMAN HERMANT: The opposition has planned the next wave of mass rallies for December 24th. Their
size and scope will be a key test of whether these post election protests can maintain their
momentum.

CHRIS UHLMANN: Norman Hermant reporting from Moscow.