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RA’s Daily Russia News Blast – March 13, 2012

TODAY: Man dies in police custody after alleged torture; new opposition rally planned for St Petersburg; Reporters Without Borders concerned over web use in Russia; Pussy Riot members charged.  Putin’s pricey election campaign; left wing forces to unite?  Russia and West continue to clash on Syria; Lavrov urges Libya bombings probe; helicopter crash kills two.  HIV rates up.

The chief of police in Kazan has been suspended following the death of a detainee in police custody last week.  Relatives of the victim, as well as doctors, have alleged that he was violently tortured by officers prior to his death.  Kremlin critics in St Petersburg reportedly plan to hold a rally of 15,000 people in the city’s center on March 24.  ‘[T]he hard graft for the opposition is now just starting,’ says the Guardian.  Weary Russian media employees have taken a (humorous) stand against the demonstrations in Moscow with a Facebook group.  The Moscow city authorities apparently plan no changes to the federal law on rallies, despite rumors to the contrary.  US Ambassador to Russia and opposition sympathizer Michael McFaul has told the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington that Russia is undergoing a ‘civil society renewal’.  In its 2012 “Enemies of the Internet” report, Reporters Without Borders has found that there are concerns about Russia’s respect of Internet freedom.  Hooliganism charges have been filed against two members of the riot grrl band Pussy Riot following their ‘punk prayer’ in a Moscow cathedral.   Posters in support of the band which have appeared in Novosibirsk have brought a new meaning to iconoclasm, the Moscow Times reports.

According to the findings of the Central Elections Commission, Vladimir Putin’s election campaign spent more than 10 times as much per vote than Dmitry Medvedev’s 2008 presidential campaign.  Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin wants an official investigation into why Putin had a meeting with Italy’s former President Silvio Berlusconi, who is currently subject to a corruption investigation.  The Justice Ministry has apparently received 68 new applications to form political parties, as the Duma debates relaxing rules to allow the formation of political parties.  The coordinator of the Left Front movement, Sergei Udaltsov, has voiced his support for creating a unifying left-wing ‘mega-party’.

Ongoing disagreements between the West and Russia have marked the UN Security Council’s most recent meeting on Syria.  Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has lamented the West’s ‘risky recipes’ which he claims ‘can only lead to the escalation of the conflict’.  Lavrov has also demanded an investigation into civilian casualties of bombings in Libya.  The U.S. has apparently suggested that in order to progress on its missile defense plans, it may be willing to disclose classified information to Russia on the matter.  Two pilots have died after the crash of their Kamov Ka-52 attack helicopter during a training flight near Torzhok in Russia’s Tver Region.  Russian officials claim that aviation incidents decreased in Russia in 2011.

The health authorities have reported a 5% increase in positive tests for HIV in Russia in 2011, with increasing numbers of women falling victim to the illness.  The Independent reports on the latest cinematic take on the war in Georgia – this time it’s the Kremlin’s version of events.

PHOTO: Fake icons celebrating Pussy Riot are sure to further inflame authorities.  (www.kissmybabushka.com)