Russian police detain opposition leader at Moscow protest

Alexei Navalny arrested at march triggered by corruption charges against prime minister

Police  detain anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a rally in Moscow on Sunday. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

Police detain anti-corruption campaigner and opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a rally in Moscow on Sunday. Photograph: Maxim Shemetov/Reuters

 

Hundreds of people were detained at anti-corruption protests across Russia on Sunday, in the biggest outpouring of discontent with president Vladimir Putin and his allies for several years.

Among those held in Moscow was Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader and anti-corruption campaigner whose recent exposé of the massive wealth allegedly accumulated by Russian prime minister Dmitry Medvedev was a trigger for the protests.

Police in the Russian capital said about 500 people had been detained for taking part in an unsanctioned demonstration, and several hundred more were reportedly detained at rallies in other cities around the country.

Chanting slogans and waving placards denouncing Mr Putin and his allies and demanding an end to corruption, the protesters came out in their greatest numbers since 2011-2012 rallies sparked by fraud-tainted parliamentary elections.

Moscow police said some 7,000 protesters had taken to the streets of the city, but Russian authorities usually underestimate the attendance at protests. Thousands of people also gathered in St Petersburg, and smaller rallies took place from Vladivostok on the Pacific coast to Makhachkala in the Caucasus republic of Dagestan. Mr Navalny said on his website that protests were planned in 99 cities.

Growing popularity

He hopes to run for the presidency in elections in 2018, but a fraud conviction handed down this year might prevent him from running. He says the charges were politically motivated as part of a Kremlin campaign to sideline him.

“Many people were detained today. It’s understandable – that’s how thieves defend themselves. But they can’t detain everyone who is against corruption. We are millions,” Mr Navalny tweeted from police custody.

“I’m proud of all those who came out on the streets today. You are the best people this country has and Russia’s hope for a decent future.”

For several years Mr Navalny has published exposés of rampant corruption in Mr Putin’s inner circle, but those involved have denied the claims, prosecutors have not acted on them and the Kremlin-controlled media have largely ignored them.

The latest report accuses Mr Medvedev of amassing a lavish property portfolio and an array of luxury possessions that a man on his official salary could not afford. His spokeswoman has dismissed the report.

The scenes in Russia on Sunday resembled those in neighbouring Belarus a day earlier, when riot police arrested hundreds of people to halt anti-government protests in the capital Minsk and elsewhere.

Opposition leaders and activists were detained amid claims from authoritarian president Alexander Lukashenko that radicals were planning violent unrest.

The spark for a string of recent protests was the imposition of a “social parasite” tax of $250 (€231) on the unemployed, which compounded widespread anger over deepening poverty and lack of opportunity in Belarus, which Mr Lukashenko has run since 1994.