Moscow police detain 150 after breaking up pro-democracy march


MOSCOW – Russian police detained more than 150 people including prominent opponents of prime minister Vladimir Putin at anti-Kremlin protests yesterday, after Mr Putin said demonstrators without permits could expect harsh treatment.

In Moscow, police detained opposition politician Boris Nemtsov and dozens of other protesters who defied authorities by gathering on a central square declared off-limits last week.

Protesters shouted “Shame!” and “Russia without Putin!” Police dragged protesters through the crowd on Triumph Square and shoved them into buses, carrying some who resisted or twisting their arms behind their backs.

Opposition leaders and human rights activists have been converging there on the 31st of each month, symbolising the right to free assembly guaranteed in Article 31 of Russia’s constitution.

The protests have become a major focus of opposition, and the police response is seen as a barometer of the Kremlin’s willingness to tolerate dissent. Police have detained protesters each time, with varying degrees of force.

Mr Putin robustly defended police crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters in an interview published on Monday. “Go without permission, and you will be hit on the head with batons. That’s all there is to it,” he said.

About 70 people were detained in Moscow, police spokesman Viktor Biryukov said at the scene. Police in St Petersburg said 79 were detained on the main street, Nevsky Prospekt, and 11 at a protest on the city’s Palace Square.

Rallies were held in other cities, and Ekho Moskvy radio said several people were detained in Rostov-on-Don in the south.

In Moscow, where police vastly outnumbered what Mr Biryukov said were about 400 protesters, officers in bulletproof vests dragged Mr Nemtsov away after he started handing out copies of a report criticising Mr Putin at the edge of the square.

The police presence appeared bigger than at previous demonstrations, with dozens of troop trucks and other vehicles blocking open areas of the square.

Opposition politicians Eduard Limonov and Ilya Yashin were among the detainees. Veteran activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva (83) said police threatened her and 15 others with detention as they walked on the square, calling it an “illegal march”.

A 64-year-old woman raised a banner reading “Free the Constitution, Save Russia” on the steps of a concert hall and held it defiantly near a line of riot police. An officer seized it after a tug-of-war in which the woman lost her crutch.

“I’m not afraid. Why should I be afraid? It’s my country,” the woman, pensioner Lyudmila Lyubomudrova, said. – (Reuters)