Putin critic detained after defying police with protest call
published : 12 Jun 2017 at 21:26
writer: Bloomberg News
Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained by police outside his apartment in southern Moscow after calling on supporters to mount an unsanctioned protest near the Kremlin.
Police detained more than 400 demonstrators at Navalny-organised rallies around the country, according to activist groups. Presidential hopeful Navalny had announced protests against official corruption Monday, the Russia Day holiday, and activists gathered in dozens of other cities.
In Moscow, Navalny had called on supporters to gather starting at 2 pm in Tverskaya Street, a central thoroughfare, after complaining that the government prevented him from hiring a stage and sound equipment to hold his demonstration in an agreed location elsewhere in the city. Police said later he had been detained for violating the laws on rallies and disobeying a police officer. The studio for his YouTube channel also suffered a power outage around the time of his arrest, his staff wrote in Twitter.
Tverskaya Street was closed to traffic for a holiday historical display. Though police prevented some from entering the area, demonstrators in the crowd mixed with others, including families with children, out enjoying the warm weather and re-enactments of events from Russia’s past. Protesters, many carrying Russian flags, chanted “Russia without Putin” and other anti-Kremlin slogans as police warned against political statements. Riot officers in protective gear moved in on demonstrators. More than 120 were detained, according to Open Russia, an opposition group that provides legal aid.
“I came here wrapped in a Russian flag and I’m afraid the police will arrest me,” said Dmitry Umydov, 30. “What kind of country to we live in when I can’t put a Russian flag on my shoulder?”
Some activists make quacking sounds or held up plastic ducks, which have become a symbol of the anti-corruption rallies since a Navalny expose early this year alleged the prime minister had built a house for the waterfowl at one of his estates. The government denied that.
“The rally is absolutely peaceful, it isn’t a protest, just a gathering of people who want to express their views,” said Anastasia Lukanina, 30. “We don’t need any permission under the Russian constitution. We came here because of corruption.”
The Moscow prosecutor’s office said Monday morning the planned rally is illegal and that police will “be forced to take all necessary measures to prevent provocations, mass unrest,” according to a website statement.
At the same time, police wouldn’t interfere with participants marching down Tverskaya without placards and slogans, Ekho Moskvy radio station cited a Moscow security official as saying. TV Rain quoted the same city official as denying any effort to sabotage the sanctioned protest.
President Vladimir Putin vowed to punish people who broke the law after an estimated 60,000 people protested in March at anti-corruption rallies organised by Navalny that were mostly unsanctioned in 80 cities across Russia, the biggest unrest in five years. Police arrested 1,500 people nationwide, including more than 1,000 in Moscow, and a handful are being prosecuted for attacking police.
The nationwide scale of the March protests and the participation of a large number of young people came as a surprise to the Kremlin, which faces an uphill task to ensure a decisive re-election for Putin in nine months’ time amid a steep fall in living standards after the longest recession in two decades.
A rally in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city that’s almost 3,000 kilometres east of the capital, brought out about 5,000 people, local organiser Sergey Boyko said on Navalny’s YouTube broadcast. Omsk, also in Siberia, saw at least 1,500 gather on the banks of the Irtysh River, with about 2,000 attending a demonstration in Khabarovsk near the Chinese border, according to Navalny’s Twitter account. In St Petersburg, dozens were reported detained by police at the protest.
An opposition organiser for Navalny in Vladivostok on the Pacific coast was detained and fined for illegally organising a rally, according to state news service RIA Novosti, which cited a regional lawmaker.
Navalny has said he wants to contest the March presidential election, in which Putin is expected to run, though the authorities say the opposition figure is barred from running for office because of a fraud conviction he says is politically motivated.