MOSCOW - The U.S. State Department has "strongly condemned" the detention of hundreds of protesters throughout Russia including the country's opposition leader on Sunday.
Tens of thousands of Russians demonstrated in cities across the country in support of a call by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny for accountability among Russia's elite. Nearly 500 people were detained around Moscow’s Pushkin square, including Navalny, for protesting without permission.
"Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers, and journalists is an affront to core democratic values," acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.
He said the United States was "troubled" by the arrest of Navalny, who has announced plans to run for president in the 2018 election.
Navalny, a Kremlin critic, was detained as he arrived to join the Moscow rally. Reports from the scene say police put him in a truck that was surrounded by hundreds of protesters who tried to open its doors and halt the arrest.
The protests appeared to be the largest coordinated outpouring of dissatisfaction since the massive 2011-2012 demonstrations following a fraud-tainted parliamentary election.
Russian riot police moving in on Moscow protesters at Pushkin square, cutting off some pedestrian traffic. pic.twitter.com/Cg01pIjoMg— Daniel Schearf (@DanielSSchearf) March 26, 2017
“This is an important event! We came here to express our position as citizens,” said one protester who just gave her first name-Alina. “We came to remain citizens of our country.”
“By my presence here, I stand against the corruption of the incumbent power,” said another protester who only gave his first name-Maxim. “The authorities do not feel like talking to their people, they communicate only through force-applying methods.”
Navalny called the demonstrations after publishing a detailed report earlier this month accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of amassing a collection of mansions, yachts and vineyards through a shadowy network of non-profit organizations.
The report has been viewed over 11 million times on YouTube. Medvedev has not reacted to it so far.
Navalny said on his official website that 99 Russian cities planned to protest, but that in 72 of them local authorities did not give permission.
There was scant coverage of the demonstrations on Russia's official media. A short report on Tass said a police officer was injured during an "unauthorized" rally in Moscow.
Navalny, who has announced his intention to run for president in next year's election, has been rallying supporters in major Russian cities in recent weeks.