Hundreds Detained at Anti-Putin Protests, Including NavalnyBy , , and
Demonstrators mix with revelers in Moscow Russia Day event
Anti-corruption demonstrations in more than 180 Russian cities
Police detained hundreds at anti-Kremlin protests across Russia, including opposition leader Alexey Navalny, who had called on supporters to defy official refusals to permit the rallies.
Activist groups said more than 1,000 demonstrators were detained at demonstrations in several cities, with the largest police actions reported in St. Petersburg and Moscow. Presidential hopeful Navalny had announced the protests against official corruption for Monday, the Russia Day holiday. Navalny was picked up by police as he left his Moscow apartment. The Associated Press said he’ll be jailed for 30 days, while the Interior Ministry said more than 650 people had been detained in Moscow and St. Petersburg.
“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, who joined the protests in Moscow. “We don’t need any permission under the Russian constitution. We came here because of corruption.”
The rallies suggested Kremlin opponents are able to draw significant crowds despite police pressure and arrests. Navalny’s last major protests, on March 26, surprised many observers with their reach to cities across the country and led to the detention of more than 1,500 people. President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings remain high going into elections in March 2018, but two years of recession have deepened public discontent.
In a rare criticism of the Kremlin from President Donald Trump’s administration, the U.S. called on Russia to “immediately release all peaceful protesters,” White House spokesman Sean Spicer said at a news briefing.
Navalny had called on supporters to gather starting at 2 p.m. 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. The national anthem played on loudspeakers.
Protesters, many carrying Russian flags, chanted “Russia without Putin” and other anti-Kremlin slogans as police warned against political statements. Some held signs and banners against corruption and Putin and climbed on the historical displays. Riot officers in protective gear moved in on demonstrators in the crowd. About 731 were detained, according to OVD-Info, a group that provides legal aid. After about an hour, police had cleared large areas of the street. Police later said about 4,500 protesters had participated.
“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 do we live in when I can’t put a Russian flag on my shoulder?”
Like the demonstrations in March, Monday’s protest attracted a large number of young people, including schoolchildren, who had in the past not been major participants in the round of anti-Kremlin rallies in 2011-2012.
Some activists made 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 Moscow prosecutor’s office had warned in the morning the planned rally was illegal and that police would “be forced to take all necessary measures to prevent provocations, mass unrest,” according to a website statement.
State media provided little or no coverage of the protests, which dominated many Russian social media. Television covered Putin showing his Kremlin office to a group of schoolchildren.
After the March rallies attracted an estimated 60,000, the biggest unrest in five years, Putin vowed to punish people who broke the law.
A rally in Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city that’s almost 3,000 kilometers (2,000 miles) east of the capital, brought out about 5,000 people, local organizer 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 organizer for Navalny in Vladivostok on the Pacific coast was detained and fined for illegally organizing 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.