Protests and strikes in Astrakhan: authorities admit voting irregularities
by Nina Achmatova
In Russia’s southern city, the former mayoral candidate continues his hunger strike against the alleged fraud that led to the victory of his rival, a member of United Russia, Putin’s party. Hunger strikes fast becoming a popular form of dissent, which Kremlin fears.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - After more than a month of protests and hunger strikes, the Russian authorities have acknowledged "irregularities," but not "fraud" in the disputed elections last March in Astrakhan, where the victory of the pro-Kremlin candidate raised a new wave of anti-government protests. Before long, this city in southern Russia has managed to attract the attention of the leading exponents of the anti-Putin camp, such as the blogger Alexei Navalny, looking for new blood to fuel protests, enthusiasm for which is waning after the Vladimir Putin's victory in presidential elections last month returning him to the Kremlin for the next six years.

Former mayoral candidate of the opposition party Fair Russia, Oleg Shein, is on hunger strike since March 16 to protest against alleged fraud, which occurred in favor of his rival and he intends to go on for another week. Meanwhile, he lost 10 pounds and to the surprise of the Russians who wonder how he can even to walk, he went to Moscow where he met the head of the Central Election Commission, Vladimir Churov. After reviewing footage shot at the polls, taken as evidence of manipulation, Churov admitted "many procedural irregularities in the delivery of documents once the polls were closed". "We will examine these cases in depth," he promised in an interview with the official channel Vesti24, stressing, however, he had not recorded "significant fraud", which may result in the annulment of the victory of Mikhail Stolyarov, a member of ruling party United Russia, now mayor of the city.

Churov then announced that the considerations of the Electoral Commission will be made public soon, but that the final decision on canceling or not the election is up to the court, were the case is expected to open within days.

Hunger strikes as a form of protest is spreading as a means of protest in the Federation and it seems it is starting to frighten the authorities more than simple street demonstrations. It all started in Omsk, where since January 27 some people are on hunger strike against "corruption and disrespect for the law" in law enforcement. A pensioner, who participated in the protest, is already dead and two others have ended up in intensive care. Then it was the turn of Lermontov, in the Russian Caucasus in February where some candidates excluded from local government won by United Russia have stopped eating until the authorities decided to cancel the election results.