Russia rounds up organisers of demonstrations

Opposition leaders call for fresh wave of protests over government corruption

Law enforcers in Russia have begun to round up the organisers of nationwide demonstrations against government corruption last month even as opposition leaders call for a fresh wave of protests.

Thousands of people took to the streets in more than 80 Russian cities on March 26th to call for the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian prime minister, over corruption allegations.

Russian authorities have released most of the hundreds of demonstrators rounded up during the protests, but are turning up the heat on opposition activists.

Police in Saratov in southern Russia used saws to break into the flat of Vyacheslav Maltsev, a popular blogger and one of the leaders of the Parnas opposition party, at dawn on Thursday. Mr Maltsev was handcuffed and taken by aircraft to Moscow where he was charged with "resisting police" during the March 26th anti-corruption rally that he helped organise.


In Moscow, police swooped on the homes of four opposition activists early on Thursday arresting them on charges of assaulting law enforcers during the same protests.

No evidence

Vladimir Ryzhkov, a Russian liberal politician, said there was no evidence that Mr Maltsev had challenged police at the March 26th rally. "The authorities are apparently trying to extinguish discontent with repression, by so called 'stifling the roots," he told the Echo of Moscow radio station.

The Kremlin appears to have been taken by surprise by the scale of the protests that took place after Alexei Navalny, the Russian opposition leader and anti-corruption crusader, released a report accusing Mr Medvedev of secretly using shell companies and charitable foundations to amass luxury properties.

A video produced by Mr Navalny's Foundation for the Fight Against Corruption showing mansions, yachts and an Italian vineyard allegedly owned by Mr Medvedev went viral on YouTube attracting more than 5 million viewers. Mr Medvedev has dismissed the report as "nonsense".

Russian oligarchs named in the report rallied to support Mr Medvedev this week pledging to file defamation suits against Mr Navalny and the Foundation for the Fight Against Corruption.

Alisher Usmanov, a Russian metals and media tycoon and part owner of Arsenal football club, said he was suing Mr Navalny for falsely alleging that he had given a Moscow mansion to a charitable foundation linked to Mr Medvedev as a bribe.

Legal action

Ilya Eliseev, a former classmate of Mr Medvedev who heads one of the foundations named in the report, also announced plans to take legal action against Mr Navalny.

Mr Navalny who is planning to compete in the Russian presidential election next March, called on his supporters this week to stage more anti-corruption protests across the country on June 12th to coincide with the annual Russia Day holiday.

“Corruption in Russia is the cause of poverty, the cause of low wages, the cause of the terrible state of all branches of the economy,” he said on Thursday.

Mikhail Khodorkovsky, the exiled former Russian oil tycoon, is calling for anti-government demonstrations on April 29th.

Mr Ryzhkov said that a crack down by the authorities on the opposition could backfire, swelling the ranks of the protest movement. “ I can’t rule out that . . . a wave of repression will bring yet more people onto the streets – exactly the opposite result that the authorities are trying to achieve,” he said.