Two liberal youth movements pledge to work together to form democratic youth opposition to Putin

MOSCOW (AP) Two liberal youth movements on Thursday pledged to work together to create a broad democratic opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin's rule and revive Russia's struggling democratic movement with new energy. The youth branch of the liberal Yabloko party and the recently founded youth group "Walking Without Putin" on Thursday signed a declaration, condemning Putin's policies and agreeing to cooperate in mobilizing Russia's democratically minded youth to form a broad movement. "Today an authoritarian police state is being built (in Russia) ... with a quasi-liberal economy and an authoritarian leader at the helm of the state," said Ilya Yashin, head of the Moscow branch of Youth Yabloko. "And we will oppose it." The two groups also condemned Putin's policies of continuing the bloody war in Chechnya, stifling freedom of speech and the adoption of legislation eliminating direct gubernatorial elections. The activists also lashed out at the recently enacted Kremlin-sponsored social reform, which stripped millions of pensioners and other socially vulnerable groups of cherished benefits such as free transportation and medicines. Russian liberals have been struggling to regroup after suffering a crushing defeat in the 2003 parliamentary elections, in which no liberal party made it into the legislature. Yashin said it was time for a "fresh wave" of young activists to revive democracy in Russia. "We intend to come out with a youthful drive, to begin student disobedience actions and other campaigns of civil protest, which will result in the strengthening of the whole democratic movement in Russia," Yashin said. The two groups pledged to conduct public awareness campaigns to spread liberal and democratic values among Russia's young people ahead of the presidential election in 2008. They also said their aim eventually was to create a democratic organization, similar to "Pora" in Ukraine and "Kmara" in Georgia, which have mobilized students to take part in protests against electoral fraud that toppled corrupt leaders and brought reform-oriented presidents to power. Roman Dobrokhotov, head of the Moscow branch of Walking Without Putin, said the two groups would forward their declaration to all youth political and rights groups they know, asking them to sign it and join them in protesting Putin's policies. "Today our two groups have decided to cooperate. Tomorrow, dozens of others will join," Dobrokhotov said. Associated Press

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