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Russia to Amass 70,000 Police as Opposition Plans June 12 Rally

Russia is mobilizing 70,000 police officers and more than 9,000 soldiers for the June 12 holiday when opposition groups plan rallies in central Moscow and around the country, according to the Interior Ministry.

About 1.35 million people are expected to attend 1,550 “political, cultural and other mass” events around the country on the Russia Day holiday, the Interior Ministry said today in a statement on its website.

Vladimir Putin, who returned to the presidency for a third term last month, on June 8 signed a bill that increases fines 150-fold for protesters who break the law. Putin has faced the biggest challenge to his authority since he came to power in 2000 as tens of thousands of Russians have taken part in demonstrations since parliamentary elections in December.

“Participants in masks, for example, will be immediately detained by the police,” the Interior Ministry said, citing the new law, which took effect yesterday. “Organizers will be held liable for violations involving harm to civilians, illegally blocking traffic, damaging roads and property.”

The maximum fine for protesters found to have broken the law was raised to 300,000 rubles ($9,280) from 2,000 rubles, and to as much as 600,000 rubles for organizers.

The opposition, which received permission to hold its planned “march of millions” in Moscow the same day that Putin signed the law into effect, condemned the initiative as an attempt to stifle the constitutional right to free assembly.

The holiday celebrates parliament’s declaration of Russian sovereignty on June 12, 1990, as the Soviet Union crumbled.

“There is quite a bit of tension, maybe apprehension is a better word, ahead of Tuesday,” Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Troika Dialog in Moscow, wrote in an e-mailed note on June 8. “Many in what remains a core part of the protest movement are openly saying that peaceful protest has not worked so it is now time for a more forceful approach.”

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