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Russians protest for media freedom

NTV owner Gusinsky is fighting extradition from Spain  

MOSCOW, Russia -- Thousands have gathered in central Moscow to voice support for freedom for the media in Russia.

Organisers said at least 20,000 people turned out for a combination rock concert and political rally to speak out in favour of media freedoms and to defend the private television station NTV.

The state-connected gas giant Gazprom -- the main creditor to the heavily indebted channel -- has been trying for months to seize control of NTV.

Grigory Yavlinsky, head of the liberal Yabloko party, told the crowd: "We know why NTV is being destroyed."

He said without the free voice of NTV, the government can say what it wants, "so that they can tell us how they fight terrorism (in Chechnya), so that they can lie about how they fight corruption."

"We know that it is not a fight against terrorism, but a full-scale war, senseless and cruel. We know it is not a fight against corruption, but a fight against freedom of speech."

Alexei Simonov, rally organiser, said the people came to hear rock music that was once censored and to hear speeches that were impossible under Soviet times.

NTV is the flagship of the Media-Most company, which claims that President Vladimir Putin's administration is trying to stifle its criticism of the government in the courts.

NTV owner Vladimir Gusinsky, who is fighting extradition from Spain on fraud charges, has accused the Kremlin of trying to take away the independence of his media company NTV -- Russia's only independent broadcaster.

Gusinsky has already given up 46 percent of NTV to Gazprom's media arm to settle some of Media-Most's debt. Gazprom claims another 19 percent as security against another loan of more than $250 million, which is due in June.

Gusinsky's former rival Boris Berezovsky, one of Russia's most powerful businessmen who is in self-imposed exile, has offered to help NTV out of its financial troubles by pledging to hand over $50 million.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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Russian Government
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