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Opposition Calls For Anti-Government Protests Across Russia

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

We're broadcasting here on an interesting day. It's a day of protests planned in some 200 cities around the country. And they were called for by a young opposition leader, Alexei Navalny. And we should say, political demonstrations not that frequent in Russia, especially in parts of the country distant from Moscow. And our colleague Lucian Kim, he's in the city of Novosibirsk. We spoke to him a little earlier, just as the rally there was getting underway.

So Lucian, what are you seeing there?

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Right now, I'm on the banks of the Ob river. It's one of Siberia's mighty rivers. And we're assembled at a statue of Czar Alexander III. We've marched along the embankment, and now there's a rally. It's hard to see from where I'm standing, but it looks like there are at least several thousand people here, which is a large crowd for Novosibirsk.

GREENE: We should probably give our listeners an idea of exactly what kind of city that is. Why would it be significant that we would see several thousand people on the streets in that Siberian city?

KIM: Well, it's kind of a litmus test. We tend to think that, you know, if there's - a few years ago, it was - here we have a cheer going up for one of the speakers.

(CHEERING)

KIM: A few years ago, a few thousand people in Moscow would have been amazing. And after the big wave of protests five years ago, that's now become kind of a benchmark for Moscow. But the provincial cities are also protesting. We know that about 200 cities have said they would take part in this protest. And that's quite unprecedented for Russia.

GREENE: If there are proper rallies in 200 or so cities in Russia, is this a worrying sign for Vladimir Putin? Could this be a big moment?

KIM: I think so because in the past, as I said, you know, the protest mood was concentrated in a couple of - maybe some big cities, especially Moscow, St. Petersburg, where there's a certain amount of wealth, higher education. And the fact that it's spreading to so many other smaller towns, provincial towns that never raised their voice in the past, I think that should be a cause for concern. And I think that's...

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Russian).

GREENE: What are they chanting there?

KIM: They were shouting, down with the government.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Lucian Kim speaking to us from a demonstration in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk, which is a couple thousand miles east of where we are in Moscow. Lucian, thanks.

KIM: Great to hear you, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.