Thousands join Moscow protest
Tens of thousands of protesters have joined one of Moscow’s biggest political rallies in recent years, denouncing the exclusion of opposition candidates from the council election in the Russian capital.
The protest today (Saturday) was the fourth consecutive weekend demonstration in Moscow over the election for the relatively powerless body. They have prompted protests in other cities, reflecting widespread frustration with the Kremlin’s repression.
A rights group said around 70 people were arrested in St Petersburg at an unregistered demonstration in support of the Moscow protests.
Around 100 Moscow protesters were arrested.
A monitoring group, Beliye Schetchik, said about 50,000 protesters attended the Moscow event while the police estimated the number at 20,000.
Police in balaclavas with sticks picked demonstrators out of the crowd and dragged them to vans. Military vehicles carrying troops in body armour were also deployed.
A protester being detained said: “The demonstration ended and we came here to walk. Now they’re just picking people and detaining them.”
Unlike the previous Moscow protests, where police used heavy force to disperse demonstrators, today’s rally was in a quiet suburb and was given official permission.
Before the protest, the police detained Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer and an activist who is on a hunger strike for a month over her disqualification from the Moscow election.
“They won’t succeed in frightening us, they won’t be able to stop us demanding our electoral rights,” Sobol posted in a Twitter video as masked police broke into her election office. “It won’t stop us going out to protests because we will keep doing it for as long as the authorities won’t listen to Muscovites.”
The police said she was planning a “provocation” at today’s event.
She was probably the last significant opposition figure still at large amid the harshest crackdown on government critics since President Vladimir Putin suppressed demonstrations against his return to the presidency in 2012 after four years as prime minister. Most opposition leaders have been arrested in recent weeks.
More than 20,000 people attended an authorised protest in Moscow last month.
The municipal election is an unlikely rallying point in Russia, and few observers expected the city poll to attract much attention. But the disqualification of non-government candidates and then thousands of arrests at unregistered protests in the past two weeks boosted today’s event.
“Everyone has their own reason to be here,” said Maria Ostozheva, 53. “Elections are just part of it. Nothing is changing. We need change.”
The Moscow police have been intensifying their crackdown on protesters. Picture credit: Kremlin