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By DEBORAH SEWARD, Associated Press Writer

Russians Protest for Press Freedom

Saturday March 31 11:52 AM ET

MOSCOW (AP) - Thousands of people gathered in a central Moscow square Saturday to voice support for freedom of the press in Russia, especially the embattled private NTV television.

Organizers and police said at least 20,000 people turned out for a combination rock concert and political rally to speak out in favor of press freedoms and to defend NTV, the only major Russian television station outside the control of the Kremlin.

The state-connected gas giant Gazprom has been trying for months to seize control of NTV, a move the station claims is part of a Kremlin attack on freedom of the press.

Children waved green balloons with the NTV logo, young people wore cloth caps that said "I love NTV," and many people wore stickers on their lapels that said, "For NTV." Others held up banners defending the network.


NTV carried parts of the rally live on its news programs, while the two state-funded channels, ORT and RTR, both ignored the rally, which benefited from a bright blue sky and unusually warm weather.

The tone among the many liberal politicians, artists and musicians who spoke at the rally was angry, and much of their wrath was directed against President Vladimir Putin (news - web sites), who supports changes that if implemented would change the independent nature of NTV.

Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko party, told the crowd: "We know why NTV is being destroyed."

He said without the free voice of NTV, the government can say what it wants, "so that they can tell us how they fight terrorism, so that they can lie about how they fight corruption."

But, he said, "we know that it is not a fight against terrorism (in Chechnya (news - web sites)), but a full-scale war, senseless and cruel. We know it is not a fight against corruption, but a fight against freedom of speech."

NTV, the flagship of the Media-Most company, has carried some of the most devastating footage on the war in Chechnya, irritating the Kremlin.

Alexei Simonov, a prominent journalist and rally organizer, said the people came to hear rock music that was once censored and to hear speeches that were impossible under Soviet times.

NTV is the flagship of the Media-Most company, which claims that President Vladimir Putin's administration is trying to stifle its criticism of the government in the courts.

Russia is seeking the extradition from Spain of Vladimir Gusinky, the head of the Media-Most empire, who is charged with fraud in a case that claims he overstated the company's assets to win loan guarantees worth $300 million from the state-own gas monopoly Gazprom.

The Spanish court has not made its decision yet, but last week freed Gusinsky on bail.

See also:

The Associated Press

20,000 Turn Out in Support of NTV
Combined Reports
The Moscow Times, Monday, April 2, 2001, p.3

Big Rally Defends Russia's Independent NTV Channel
By Ron Popeski
Reuters, Saturday March 31 8:24 AM ET

Thousands Demonstrate in Moscow
The Associated Press
Saturday March 31 7:11 AM ET

Saturday March 31 11:52 AM ET

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