Tens of thousands of angry protesters defied President Mikhail Gorbachev's ban on rallies and flooded the streets of the capital Thursday in support of the radical reforms backed by his rival, Boris Yeltsin.
People hung out windows and stood on phone booths, trucks and kiosks, but police prevented most of the demonstrators from approaching Manezh Square, adjacent to the Kremlin, where the rally was to be held."I'm not afraid. I've come to demonstrate tonight because I cannot go on living like this," said Natasha, a 32-year-old engineer who refused to give her last name.
Yeltsin also demonstrated his power in the Russian parliament, where his supporters appeared Thursday to gain the upper hand over hard-line Communists seeking his ouster. The body voted to reject Gorbachev's ban on rallies.
Yeltsin has been pressing Gorbachev to move more rapidly with political and economic reforms, including a faster move to a free-market system that many Soviets believe would ease their economic woes. The two also have clashed over Yeltsin's insistence that individual Soviet republics should control their own economies and natural resources.
By nightfall, as snow fell and the temperature dropped, police had compressed the protesters to a half-mile stretch of Tverskaya Street between Pushkin and Mayakovsky squares.
The demonstrators had tried to march toward the Kremlin, but near Pushkin Square they met a line of troops, who stood firm without making threatening moves. Water cannons were parked behind the troops. Organizers shouted over loudspeakers, urging the marchers not to confront the troops. The demonstrators turned around and held their pro-Yeltsin rally in the street.
Earlier, dozens of people broke through metal barricades on Manezh Square, shouting "Yeltsin! Yeltsin!" and "Gorbachev Resign!" But waves of helmeted riot police with shields pushed the protesters away.
"You should be ashamed!" one elderly woman shouted as a policeman pushed her over a curb near Manezh Square. Hundreds of military vehicles surrounded the Kremlin and other parts of central Moscow.