Russian police arrest 150 at opposition protests

Russian authorities arrested Sunday at least 150 people taking part in opposition demonstrations in Moscow and St Petersburg organised by former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, police said.

Police spokesmen said about 90 people were detained in Moscow and 60 in St Petersburg for attempting to take part in unauthorised demonstrations.

Hundreds of anti-riot police packed Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow — surrounding it with trucks and metal barriers — to stop the rally from going ahead. Dozens of people were detained and forced into police buses, AFP reporters said.

A Kasparov spokeswoman, Lyudmila Mamina, said the Kremlin critic had tried but been unable to reach the square for the protest because of the police presence.

“He is now at home but the road outside is now blocked by police,” she told AFP.

Kasparov and other activists had planned the “Dissenters’ March” a day after they launched a new opposition group, Solidarity, and vowed to “dismantle” the regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin .

Kasparov’s website, http://www.kasparov.ru, said that among those detained was Alexei Fomin, a former general who was held with other retired Russian military officers.

The group, the Union of Soviet Officers, had gathered to mark the anniversary of a December 1825 military revolt against Tsar Nicholas I.

An AFP correspondent saw about 15 elderly people, who said they were retired military officers, being detained at Pushkin Square by police as they prepared to head for the march.

“Around 90 people were detained,” Moscow police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told AFP, adding they may face administrative measures, a term that usually means fines.

The detained activists also included writer Eduard Limonov, founder of the National Bolshevik Party, a banned radical group, his aide Alexander Averin told AFP by telephone from a bus where they were being held.

“I am fed up with being scared. I came to take part in the Dissenters’ March but they did not let me through. I have never seen so many police,” said 69-year-old accountant Irma Kogan.

Kasparov and his allies called the rally to protest against what they call the undemocratic policies of President Dmitry Medvedev and Putin. But Moscow city authorities had refused them permission, officially because other demonstrations were already planned in Triumfalnaya Square.

“It is useless to vote. Lies and corruption are everywhere,” added Kogan.

A St Petersburg police spokesman said about 60 people were detained there.

Some 300 people gathered in the northern city to chant slogans opposing proposed constitutional amendments that would extend the presidential term from four years to six.

Some analysts have said the move is one of several being taken to allow Putin to return as president.

“What is happening in this country is a catastrophe,” said Alexander, an engineer who attended the protest, but declined to give his name.

Launched Saturday, Kasparov’s new opposition group includes a mix of political forces. While Kasparov declared he was optimistic about the movement, other members have been more cautious.

A police-sanctioned protest by about 100 people was organised in central Moscow by The Right Cause, a liberal party created last month with Kremlin approval after a merger of three other parties.

“I do not like the policies of our government, the policies directed against the people, the corruption,” said Natalya Becheva, a 63-year-old retired engineering teacher at the Right Cause rally.

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