MOSCOW - Just a month after he began a new six-year term, Russian President Vladimir Putin continues a crackdown on dissent.
Russian police raided the apartments of top opposition leaders in Moscow on Monday, the day before a mass rally is to take place against President Putin.
Armed with assault rifles, investigative police raided 10 homes and offices. They said they were looking for evidence surrounding the last big anti-Putin rally.
Staged the day before Putin's May 7 presidential inauguration, that rally ended in violence with 20 policemen injured and 436 protesters detained.
Democratic Russia Committee Director Natalia Pelevine says the raids were designed to intimidate opposition leaders and their supporters.
"They are trying to confiscate electronic equipment, probably computers and DVDs and any device that can hold information pretty much. We know they are confiscating that at this moment," Pelevine said.
In the raids, police beat down the doors of two of the best known leaders of the younger generation of democracy protesters, internet blogger Alexei Navalny and television hostess Ksenia Sobchak.
Later, a police source told Interfax that police confiscated nearly $1,900,000 from Sobchak's apartment.
Sobchak tweeted of the raid: "People burst in at 8 o'clock in the morning, they were stopping me from putting my clothes on. They robbed the apartment. They humiliated me."
Liberal political figures condemned the raids, which took part on a Russian holiday.
Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin said the raid showed that "radicals" are gaining strength in the Kremlin. A group of liberal Duma members issued a statement comparing them to secret police raids that routinely took place before opposition actions in the times of Russia's last czar, Nicholas II.
A former Duma member who is forming an opposition party, Mark Feygin, says President Putin is very fearful of Moscow street protests growing out of control. In the March presidential election, Putin did not win Moscow.
Feygin says the raids were designed to keep main opposition leaders from speaking at Tuesday's rally. Police have asked about six of the top leaders to report for questioning one hour before the rally is to start.
Pelevine also says the timing is purely political.
"Basically, they are trying to get the opposition out of the way, and to make sure the protest tomorrow [Tuesday] does not happen," Pelevine said.
Putin signed a law Friday that dramatically raised penalties for unauthorized rallies. Under the new law, someone caught participating in an unauthorized political rally will face a fine of up to $9,000, the equivalent of the average one-year salary in Russia.
Tuesday's rally is authorized and Moscow city officials have granted a permit for a march and rally for up to 50,000 participants.