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New rally in support of NTV

Moscow rally
Around 10,000 joined the Moscow rally  

ST PETERSBURG, Russia -- Thousands of people have joined a rally in Russia's second city in support of the country's only national independent television network, NTV.

Police in St Petersburg said a crowd of around 4,000 thronged Troitskaya Square, opposite the Winter Palace, on Sunday -- a day after a similar protest in Moscow attracted some 10,000 people.

Journalists at NTV have called for the public to back them against an attempt by the state-dominated natural gas giant Gazprom to take over the station.

They say the future of free media in Russia is at stake.

Gazprom, a major shareholder and creditor of NTV, ousted founder Vladimir Gusinsky on April 3 and installed its own loyalists on to the board.

It insists the decision was a commercial, not a political, one, aimed at protecting its investment. Gusinsky is currently under house arrest in Spain on fraud charges.

But NTV believes Gazprom wants to silence critical reporting on government corruption, human rights abuses and the war in Chechnya.

The station argues that the reshuffle was illegal and journalists refuse to work for the new management until its legitimacy is confirmed by a high court.

In St Petersburg, people held posters declaring "No TV without NTV!" and "We won't give NTV to Putin!," denouncing what reporters say is President Vladimir Putin's leading role in a crackdown on independent media.

Liberal politicians climbed on a modified truck to address the crowd.

"What they are doing to NTV is (the start of) the road to repression," said parliamentary deputy Sergei Popov. "But we will not go down that road," he told the cheering crowd.

Another politician, Igor Artemyev, from the Yabloko party, said: "For us, it is important that NTV is not just an information provider but expresses our way of thinking, and in this way it has become our political leader."

Signs of dissent, however, have begun to show in the station's ranks with two key presenters resigning.

CNN founder Ted Turner announced on Wednesday that he had reached an agreement with Gusinsky to buy a stake in NTV.

He said he hoped to ensure the station's continued independence, though that could only be achieved if he sealed a deal to buy shares from Gazprom as well.

Talks continued over the weekend.

Reuters contributed to this report.



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RELATED SITES:
NTV-Internet
Russian Government
Moscow Times

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