Russian police detain more than 800 at banned opposition rally in Moscow
Anti-Kremlin activists are protesting the exclusion of their candidates from election next month
Police officers detain opposition politician Lyubov Sobol. Photograph: VASILY MAXIMOV/AFP/Getty Images
Russian police forcibly detained over 800 people attending a protest in Moscow on Saturday to demand free elections after authorities warned the demonstration was illegal.
Police removed prominent activist Lyubov Sobol, an ally of jailed opposition politician Alexei Navalny, from a taxi and bundled her into a van minutes before the start of what anti-Kremlin activists described as a peaceful walk to protest against the exclusion of their candidates from an election next month.
In another blow to Mr Navalny, Russian investigators opened a criminal investigation into the alleged laundering by his anti-corruption foundation.
Mr Navalny and his allies say the foundation, which has published a slew of embarrassing investigations into government officials, is transparently financed from public donations.
OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group, said police had detained 828 people in Moscow on Saturday, in some cases beating them with truncheons as they lay on the floor. Reuters reporters witnessed dozens of arrests. In one case police carried off a man as he clung upside down to his bicycle.
Police said they had detained 600 and that 1,500 had attended the protest, though footage of demonstrations which flared in different parts of Moscow suggested many more had taken part. Opposition activists later posted screen shots online of police reports suggesting around 10,000 had attended.
Saturday’s protest was smaller than one a week earlier but underlined the determination of some Kremlin critics – especially younger people – to keep pressing to open up Russia’s tightly-choreographed political system.
Many but not all of those detained were later released by police, including Ms Sobol who was fined 300,000 roubles (€4,129) for violating Russia’s tough protest laws.
The focus of protesters’ anger is a prohibition on a number of opposition-minded candidates, some of whom are allies of Mr Navalny, from taking part in a September election for Moscow’s city legislature.
That vote, though local, is seen as a dry run for a national parliamentary election in 2021.
Authorities say opposition candidates failed to collect enough genuine signatures to register. The excluded candidates say that is a lie and insist on taking part in a contest they believe they could win.
President Vladimir Putin and the Kremlin have not commented on the standoff with the opposition, but Moscow prosecutors on Friday had warned would-be protesters that Saturday’s demonstration had not been approved.
At well over 60 per cent, Mr Putin’s approval rating is still high compared with many other world leaders but is lower than it used to be due to discontent over years of falling incomes.
Last year the former KGB intelligence officer (66) won a landslide re-election and a new six-year term until 2024. – Reuters