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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – March 31, 2011

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TODAY: Strategy 31 organizers to turn sights to United Russia; organization raided by police ahead of protests today; new opposition report on corruption; debating the independence of the revived Moscow News; HIV figures rise; Council of Europe to intervene on gay rights; Gorbachev gala; actress Gurchenko dies.
Lev Ponomarev says that the activists ceasing to protest under the Strategy 31 banner will turn their attention to banning United Russia.  In a move widely thought to be connected with planned action on Triumfalnaya Square today, the group’s Moscow offices have been raided by policearmed with automatic weapons‘, who detained four activists.  The People’s Freedom Party, headed by opposition figures (and former ministers) including Boris Nemtsov and Vladimir Ryzhkov, have released a new report on corruption, to be distributed at today’s rallies: ‘We have bad roads. This is because of corruption.  The fact that prices are going up on utilities in our country, this is because the tariffs are going up on gas, and the tariffs on gas are going up because Putin’s friends have taken $60 billion worth of property.‘  Is the Prime Minister intending to use the revived, and now state-run, Moskovskiye Novosti newspaper to ‘widen his appeal‘? Some sources are reserving their judgement for now: ‘Reporters Without Borders said the revival of the newspaper may show that Putin’s ruling elite is more open to criticism.

Moscow’s number of HIV infected people has risen 64.5% year-on-year, with current totals at 29,337: and it is still not in the top ten regions affected.  The family of a soldier found hanged in his military unit is calling for a full investigation.  New research focusing on climate change in Russia’s boreal forest reveals a ‘continually accelerating large-scale shift in vegetation types‘, with experts warning that ‘warming creates more warming‘.  The Council of Europe could step in to pressure Russia over the current status of gay rights, with a draft report underway, but homophobia ‘runs deep in [Russian] society‘, with major political parties (including United Russia) shunning a round table to discuss the issue this week.  Sergei Lavrov says that Libya does need a new regime, but that it is up to the Libyans to forge it for themselves, as Western leaders debate whether or not to arm rebel forces.
A star-studded gala concert was held last night in London’s Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the 80th birthday of Mikhail Gorbachev.  The former Soviet President met with the British Prime Minister in London yesterday.  Stepping up its row with the Prosecutor General’s Office over an illegal gambling case, the Investigative Committee plans to interview the son of Prosecutor General Yury Chaika.  Soviet-era film star Lyudmila Gurchenko has died in Moscow, aged 75.  Ahead of the 50th anniversary of Yury Gagarin‘s space flight, RIA Novosti has a biography on the first man in space. 
PHOTO: Members of the audience look on as models display creations at the Veronika Nico fashion show during fashion week in Moscow March 30, 2011. REUTERS/Nikolay Korchekov