Thousands of Russians Present Letters of Protest in Demonstrations

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MOSCOW — Thousands of people lined up in cities across Russia on Saturday to present letters of protest at government offices, the second such outpouring of discontent in two months.

The protests, initiated by the Open Russia organization founded by Mikhail B. Khodorkovsky, an exiled former oil tycoon, centered on the right of all Russians to present letters listing their grievances to the government.

Some of the protests turned violent. Organizers said that around 50 people had been arrested in St. Petersburg and that some of them had been injured. Organizers in the southern city of Ufa said hundreds of people had turned out.

At least 16 people were arrested in the Siberian mining city of Kemerovo, organizers of the protests said on a Facebook page. They posted a video on Twitter that showed police officers leading one protester away as others chanted “Nadoel!” or “Tired!” The chants echoed the theme of the gatherings, which is that many Russians are tired of their government.

In Moscow, the capital, hundreds of people lined a sidewalk near the Kremlin administration building between Red Square and Staraya Ploshad, or Old Square. Police officers in riot gear stood behind metal fences to block off the area around Old Square. Construction equipment also served as a barrier.

The Moscow demonstration started at 2 p.m. and ended a little more than two hours later. Organizers said that an early count found that at least 1,500 people had presented petitions.

Many people wrote their letters as they waited. The petitions called for better public services and an end to corruption or demanded that President Vladimir V. Putin not be allowed to seek another term in 2018.

When asked about their expectations, many conceded that they did not think the petitions would have an effect, but they said that it was time to start pushing back against an erosion of civil liberties and the poor performance of the economy.

“We must participate in such events to show the authority that more and more people whose rights are being violated are against this,” a 30-year-old marketing specialist who identified herself only as Veronika said as she wrote her letter. Many participants were reluctant to give their full names because of the legal problems faced by numerous people who took part in previous protests. “I want to live in a country where laws are observed,” she said.

Open Russia said it planned protests in about 30 cities, though the full level of participation and the number of cities where events took place was not immediately available, as details trickled in from across Russia’s 11 time zones.

Mr. Khodorkovsky, the group’s founder and a former chairman of the Yukos oil giant, spent several years in prison before being pardoned by Mr. Putin in 2013. Since then, he has lived abroad, becoming one of the Kremlin’s most outspoken critics.

Open Russia’s Facebook page had a few suggestions about subjects to be addressed in the petitions, including “We are tired of living on poverty-level salaries and pensions”; “We are tired of listening to lies on television,” and “We are tired of driving on bad roads.”

The group also suggested that Russians were tired of many of their most prominent leaders, including Mr. Putin, Prime Minister Dmitri A. Medvedev and Ramzan Kadyrov, the leader of Chechnya, a North Caucasus republic, whose thuggish police force recently made headlines for detaining and torturing gay people.

The anticorruption theme burst into prominence on March 26, with marches in about 80 Russian cities that included a large number of young people. The protests were called by the most prominent opposition leader, Aleksei A. Navalny, who was subsequently jailed for 15 days for organizing them. More than 1,000 people were arrested in Moscow alone and have steadily been brought to court.

Mr. Navalny appears to have hit a public nerve with a series of videos accusing senior government officials of widespread corruption.

The latest video focused on a what he said was a group of four bogus charities that spend about $66 billion annually to maintain a series of luxurious residences for the prime minister.

Mr. Navalny, who has called for another round of protests on June 12, was hit with green dye for a second time last week and required medical treatment for an eye injury.

He appeared on his YouTube channel afterward, still tinted slightly green, to answer questions from around the country.

Mr. Navalny expressed support for the idea of submitting petitions on Saturday, but he said he doubted that doing so would have any effect.

Asked about the Saturday protest last week, Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, noted that it was illegal and would be dealt with accordingly.

“We are still hearing calls for illegal action,” Mr. Peskov told reporters on a conference call. “This will naturally lead to an absolutely lawful reaction from the authorities in accordance with current legislation.”

A day earlier, the government had declared Open Russia, which has its headquarters in Britain, an “undesirable” organization, making it illegal for it to operate in Russia. The main reason cited for the designation was that the group had organized protests.

In March, Mr. Putin condemned street protests, saying that they would lead to chaos if allowed to continue, and noting the violent aftermath of such outpourings in the Arab world and Ukraine in recent years.

At least initially, no reports about Saturday’s protests appeared on Rossiya 24, the main cable news channel. Reports included one about the opening of Fountain Season in the capital, with the water being turned on after the long winter freeze.

There also seemed to be a less-than-subtle message directed at the protesters, whom the government often accuses of being financed from abroad. The cable station showed a documentary about treacherous military officers who served the enemy during World War II.