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Riot Police in Russia Detain Demonstrators

  • Emma Simpson

Riot police in Russia have detained more than a hundred demonstrators, including the former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, as they tried to stage a banned opposition rally in Moscow. Kasparov is one of the leaders of a coalition known as "Other Russia," which is opposed to the policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Kasparov was detained during a huge police operation to prevent the protesters from gathering in defiance of the ban. Emma Simpson reports from Moscow for the VOA.

"Russia without Putin," the protesters shouted. Around 1,000 tried to make their way to the city's historic Pushkin square, not far from the Kremlin. But they were met by a massive show of force. Hundreds of officers in full riot gear flooded the city center.

Dozens of demonstrators were detained and loaded onto buses, among them Garry Kasparov. A police spokesman said Kasparov was arrested for provocative behavior.

The authorities banned the demonstration on the grounds that another group had permission to stage a rally there. They warned the protesters not to come to the square. But many protesters were outraged by what they believe were heavy-handed police tactics. President Putin's former economic adviser, Andrei Illarionov, now a Kremlin critic, was one of the demonstrators.

"It's a constitutional right of any citizen of Russia to be on the streets. Those people who've issued this order, to use force against people is committing crime, is committing crime against constitutional Russia," said llarionov.

There were more clashes as the protesters tried to make their way to another venue for what they call a dissenters march. The coalition behind it is an unlikely alliance of western leaning liberals and radical nationalists, united by their opposition to President Putin.

Maria Gaidar, daughter of a former prime minister, says she wants political change.

"Free independent media, free elections... a normal civil state not a military or FSB (formerly the KGB) state... we just want to live in a democracy, in a free country," she said.

Other Russia, as Kasparov's group is known, so far has little popular support or political influence. The vast majority of Russians support President Putin under whom they have enjoyed rising living standards. Just a short distance away from the contested march, Muscovite Andrei Minishev took part in a pro-Putin demonstration.

"We do not need the other Russia," he said. "Have you seen the ideas of this movement? This movement is absolutely ridiculous. They are political garbage."

A similar march anti-Putin demonstration, planned for St. Petersburg on Sunday, has also been banned.