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Schroeder advisor Michael Steiner
"It is in all of Europe's business that Russia becomes a strong, democratic society"
 real 28k

Sunday, 8 April, 2001, 13:31 GMT 14:31 UK
Russian NTV viewers on the streets
St Petersburg demonstration
The crowds carried green balloons, symbols of NTV
Several thousand people have demonstrated in the Russian city of St Petersburg against the takeover of the country's only independent nationwide television station, NTV.

The state-dominated gas company, Gazprom, ousted NTV's old board of directors in a boardroom coup on Tuesday, which journalists claim was a Kremlin-inspired move to curtail their criticism of the government.

One of NTV's top presenters, Svetlana Sorokina, told the rally that NTV journalists would fight to the end to preserve their independence.

St Petersburg demonstration
Protesters believe free speech will suffer
The St Petersburg protest follows a demonstration on Saturday in Moscow, when several thousand people took to the streets despite heavy rain to back the journalists.

The NTV staff, whose reports have regularly criticised the government of President Vladimir Putin, say the Gazprom takeover would lead to government censorship.

Talks held on Friday to try to resolve the dispute ended in failure, with the two sides exchanging angry accusations.

Gazprom insists that the new management board was approved by a properly- constituted shareholders' meeting. And it insists it is interested only in the financial side of NTV.

Outside interest

US media mogul Ted Turner has stepped into the row, trying to buy shares in NTV, reportedly with backing from billionaire financier George Soros.

The struggle for control over NTV has raised concern elsewhere in Europe over the future of a free press in Russia.

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder says he will raise the TV dispute with President Putin when he visits Moscow this week.

And in Strasbourg, the Council of Europe called on Russian authorities not to meddle in the media.

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See also:

07 Apr 01 | Europe
Russians rally for NTV
05 Apr 01 | Europe
NTV on air but protests continue
04 Apr 01 | Europe
NTV's battle with the Kremlin
26 Mar 01 | Europe
Russian tycoon released on bail
16 Jun 00 | Europe
Gusinsky: Thorn in Putin's side
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