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Russian Police Arrest Anti-Putin Protesters

Russian police detain a participant during an opposition rally protesting Vladimir Putin's presidential victory, in St. Petersburg, March 5, 2012.
Russian police detain a participant during an opposition rally protesting Vladimir Putin's presidential victory, in St. Petersburg, March 5, 2012.
James Brooke

The day after Russian voters elected Prime Minister Vladimir Putin as their country's next president, the government staged two celebration parties near the Kremlin.  But, not everyone in the capital Monday found reason to celebrate.

Minutes after leading a chant of “Putin, Thief," Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was arrested with 150 other demonstrators in downtown Moscow.

Elsewhere in Moscow and St. Petersburg, police arrested 150 more people in protests, the day after Prime Minister Putin was elected to a six-year term as president.

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Natalia Pelevine, a Russian protest organizer, was one of those arrested.  She telephoned VOA from the back of a Moscow police van.

"When I started screaming and everyone followed me - 'Russia Without Putin' - that's when they finally got me," she said.

Pelevine added that the van was filled with 12 detainees.

"Now we are going.  I am not sure where we are going.  They are not answering any questions, really," she said.

Earlier on Monday, monitors from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe called Russia’s presidential election unfair.  The organization's report said there was no real competition in the race and that there was never doubt that Prime Minister Putin would win.
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Putin, who has served as Russian president or prime minister for 12 years, won 64 percent of vote.  Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov won 17 percent.  Third place went to Mikhail Prokhorov, a pro-business newcomer, who won 7 percent of the vote.

Prokhorov was the only one of the four opposition candidates to join the estimated 15,000 demonstrators who gathered in Pushkin square, a kilometer from the Kremlin.

In a brief speech, Prokhorov promised to create a new political party to bring freedom to Russia.

Chess master Gary Kasparov also promised that Russia would become a free country.

But the biggest applause went to three speakers who gave hard-line speeches - and ended up being arrested.

Ilya Yashin, who, with Kasparov, leads the Solidarity movement looked beyond the sea of opposition flags and asked why central Moscow was filled with riot police.

Referring to Putin's election, Yashin said, “They insulted us yesterday, and you came here to say ‘Enough!'”

Putin's opponents are debating setting up a tent camp in Moscow similar to the one built Kyiv in 2004.  That encampment forced Ukrainian authorities to annul a contested presidential election.

Sergei Udaltov, leader of Left Front told the crowd that he would not leave Pushkin Square until Putin leaves the Kremlin.

Earlier in the day, Dmitry Medvedev, Russia’s outgoing president, asked authorities to review the denial of registration to a pro-democracy party and to review 32 criminal cases, including that of oil billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky.  Jailed eight years ago, Khodorkovsky has gradually won the respect of Russia’s democracy movement.  Analysts say Medvedev's move might be intended to defuse the demonstrations.

Vladimir Pereverzin, a former finance director for Khodorkovsky’s old oil company, attended the Moscow rally.

"There is no choice but to release Khodorkovsky, and they are trying to find a pretext to do so."

Pereverzin spent seven years in jail, and was released three weeks ago.

Asked how Moscow had changed while he was in prison, he responded:  "Smartphones, people reading electronic books on the subway, and thousands of people gathering to demonstrate for democracy."

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Comment Sorting
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by: Evil_Tendencies
March 05, 2012 10:29 AM
A nation where peaceful public protests have to be sanctioned by the government - especially when that decision is primarily informed by political expediency and not public health/safety concerns - is only playing at democracy.

The Russian people have endured and suffered through too much to end up with a government like this; they deserve better.
     

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