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Online democracy group Open Russia refused entry to major hotels

By Anna Liesowska
27 March 2015

American chains Hilton and Marriott among the venues that turned away exiled former billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky's political movement.

'I'll be back as soon as I feel that to put me in a cell would be dangerous. And I think that it will happen soon.' Picture: Open Russia

Two major American hotel chains were among venues that refused to host a Siberian teleconference for the democracy movement led by former tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Supporters of the Open Russia group, which aims to challenge Russian president Vladimir Putin, were turned away from the Marriott and the Hilton in Novosibirsk on Tuesday.

The city's Azimut hotel also chose not to allow the campaigners inside telling them they did not want to be associated with a political movement or provide a platform for their views.

On a wet and snowy evening, followers moved from venue to venue until finally ending up in a children's pool to host their video conference.

Open Russia was launched last year by 51-year-old Khodorkovsky as a live teleconference broadcast featuring groups of civil society activists in major cities including St Petersburg and Ekaterinburg. According to interviews he has given to western media, it is seen as a way to unite pro-European Russians against Vladimir Putin’s government.

Marriott in Novosibirsk


Double Tree by Hilton

Supporters of the Open Russia group were turned away from the Marriott and the Hilton in Novosibirsk on Tuesday. Pictures: The Siberian Times

Khodorkovsky, who spent almost a decade in jail for tax evasion and theft after funding opposition parties, has already hinted he would be prepared to challenge the President and bring in sweeping constitutional reform.

But his supporters are limited in number compared with Putin's approval ratings of 80%-plus, higher than any Western leader. 

This week Siberian supporters struggled to find a platform to allow him to give his views when his latest conference was held in Novosibirsk.

Yegor Savin, head of the Novosibirsk branch of the Solidarity movement, said: 'The Azimut was the most honest. They told us that their founders believe that they are outwith politics and do not want to be connected with us, but welcome us to hold any other event. 

'At the Hilton our request was submitted to the department of safety and they thought for a week and contacted the founders, then the head of the department finally told us no.'

After being turned down by the hotels, the organisers did get the go-ahead to use the Otpusk club in the city centre only to be refused entry an hour before the event, reportedly because of a flood.

They moved on to the Guevara bar but the lights went out just a few minutes after the start of the teleconference. When they came back on again, the broadcast was drowned out by loud music and the supporters moved on to a children's pool.

Khodorkovsky, who lives in Switzerland with his family, did eventually get online and his address was broadcast on the YouTube channel and on the Open Russia website.

Khodorkovsky in Novosibirsk


Khodorkovsky in Novosibirsk


Khodorkovsky in Novosibirsk

On a wet and snowy evening, followers moved from venue to venue until finally ending up in a children's pool to host their video conference. Pictures: Open Russia

He spoke for about two hours and answered questions from the audience about the 'brain drain' from Russia and the economy. He also vowed to return to his homeland when he feels that he is in no danger of being sent back to prison.

It was on May 30, 2005, that he was initially sentenced to nine years in the maximum security Matrosskaya Tishina jail for tax evasion, fraud embezzlement and money laundering.

This followed his detention when his private jet landed in Novosibirsk. He and his supporters say his convictions were politically motivated. 

'I'll be back as soon as I feel that to put me in a cell would be dangerous. And I think that it will happen soon,' he said. He also told supporters there is a lack of public influence on state power in Russia and insisted this lack of democracy is worsening the economy.

Once one of Russia's richest men and the former head of the now defunct Yukos oil firm, Khodorkovsky had made an estimated $15 billion fortune from the highly controversial privatisation of Soviet state assets.

Comments (2)

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aeeebegcedaakckd
05/09/2015 07:03
0
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Jaker, Dundalk
30/03/2015 22:44
0
4
1

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