Riot police in Moscow arrested dozens of activists Monday in a chaotic protest against a presidential election the opposition is characterizing as a stage-managed farce. VOA's Peter Fedynsky has this report from the Russian capital.
It was a small demonstration with a huge police presence in Moscow's Turgenev Square. There was no stage and if there were to be any public speakers, they were all arrested. Police arrested individuals they reportedly identified from photos of previous demonstrations.
As orders crackled over walkie-talkies, helmeted riot police picked off activists by ones and twos, some in the nearby metro station, a few in a local McDonalds, more behind the subway stop and others in front it. Police drove away two busloads of detainees.
Then the focus of the demonstration moved to another part of the square, where it turned into anarchy.
Activists, journalists, and police stumbled, surged, twisted and turned past and through one another, each trying to do their job - to inform, to report … to arrest. The only ones moving in a straight line were the police, who pushed in aggressive fashion through crowds of cameramen and journalists to seize the activist being interviewed in the middle.
An arrest cut off well-known human rights campaigner Lev Ponomarev in mid-sentence. Suddenly, he was jostled 10 meters in one direction and five meters in another, swept away in a shouting human tide filled with video cameras, notepads, elbows, and police batons.
Then somebody lit some road flares and police wrestled for control of the burning sticks within the close confines of a moving crowd.
Through it all, the crowd yelled various slogans: "Down with the police state! Shame! Fascists! Your election is a farce! This is our city! We need a different Russia!"
The chaos went on for about 20 minutes before a phalanx of police with combat helmets and metal shields defused the volatile situation.
It was only then that some remaining activists could explain what their demonstration was about. They say Sunday's election of Dmitri Medvedev as president represents a farce, perpetrated through a stage-managed campaign, as well as ballot stuffing and voter intimidation on Election Day.
Alexander Khatov of the Other Russia Coalition says the cheating involves more than the presidency. He says popular election of judges and governors was repealed, and authorities arbitrarily set voter turnout numbers, which means they can elect themselves. He says authorities show up themselves, vote for themselves and fill in the figure they need to declare themselves winners.
Many regions of Russia have voter turnouts exceeding 90 percent, a suspiciously high figure that is typically associated with falsified elections in authoritarian states. Dmitri Medvedev won the election with more than 70 percent of the vote. Several well-known Russian politicians who could have questioned Kremlin policies were disqualified on technical grounds.
The Other Russia Coalition sponsored post-election day protests in a number of regions around the country. About 2,000 people participated in St. Petersburg, where organizers had official permission. Authorities denied a permit for the Moscow protest, which participants said violated their right to free assembly.