Thousands march in Moscow against government plans to demolish apartments
Thousands of protesters have demonstrated in Moscow against a bill to tear down Soviet-era low-rise apartment buildings built in the 1950s and 60s.
City Hall insisted the buildings are too dilapidated and outdated, but many residents and activists see the plans as a ruse to make way for high-rises in some of Moscow's leafiest neighbourhoods.
The protesters rallied against what could be Russia's largest redevelopment project to pull down entire neighbourhoods of prefabricated blocks built under and named after ex-leader Nikita Khrushchev.
The State Duma rushed to pass the first reading of a bill on the demolition in Moscow last month which will force the residents to vacate their apartments in exchange for other housing.
The parliamentary speaker suggested postponing the second reading pending a public debate, when faced with growing criticism.
The five-storey pre-fabricated buildings to be torn down were built to tackle an acute housing crisis but the demolition plans ignored some of the city's most dilapidated housing in less attractive areas while including good quality apartment buildings in what have recently become expensive areas.
About 5,000 low-rises will be torn down in the next several years to make way for developments under the plan from mayor Sergei Sobyanin.
Muscovites, carrying placards saying "No to the demolition of the constitution!" and the flags of their neighbourhoods, chanted "Resign!" in reference to Moscow's mayor and City Hall.
Police estimated turnout as low as 5,000 but volunteers of the White Counter group, which attends opposition rallies to provide independent crowd tallies, said just over 20,000 people showed up.
Alexei Matveyev, a 36-year-old bank clerk from north Moscow, carried a placard reading "No to violation of the constitution and property law."
He said the bill under discussion is rushed and disregards residents' interests.
"People who live in these blocks bought the apartments in order to live in quiet leafy low-rises," said Mr Matveyev.
"We are happy in our house. We don't want to live in tower blocks."
Alexander Zeinin, 32, and his wife Natalya bought an apartment in Perovo, in the east of the city, several years ago to start a family but now their building is slated for demolition.
"We spent a year and half on the remodelling. Why would I want to go anywhere?" said Mr Zeinin.
"We haven't had a good sleep these past two months. We're recently married and now we think if we can have children - what if they throw us onto the street tomorrow?"
The mayor insisted that residents would be offered housing of equal size in the same areas, but residents fear they will be expelled from their quiet, comfortable neighbourhoods to live in high-rises.
The first blocks are due to be demolished before the end of the year, and Mr Sobyanin said some residents would be relocated as early as this autumn.
He tweeted after the protest that City Hall would take into consideration "all substantiated statements made at the rally."
Authorities insist that the buildings would not be demolished if residents vote against it but sceptical residents pointed to how the voting on Moscow's government website has been rigged in the past.
Fyodor Markushevich, a 40-year-old father of four, lives in a neighbourhood in west Moscow recently taken off the list for re-development but he fears that once the bill passes, the redevelopment plans will be redrafted again.
"Everyone is sick of it," he said.
"We understand that we live in a city where everything is done for profit and it's hard to change that."