Police arrest hundreds at Moscow rally

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Russian police have detained hundreds of people at an unauthorised march in the capital Moscow.

Demonstrators were dragged away from the city hall, while others were corralled into nearby streets.

They were protesting against the exclusion of opposition candidates from local polls. The opposition say they were barred for political reasons.

A non-governmental monitoring group, OVD-Info, reported 696 arrests on Saturday. Police put the figure at 295.

Some of the candidates banned from standing in the 8 September election had been detained earlier.

Officials disqualified about 30 people, saying they had failed to collect enough valid signatures to stand.

Moscow’s Mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has called the demonstration a “security threat”, and promised to maintain public order.

Anger is widespread among opposition supporters at the way the city is run and the ruling United Russia party.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was jailed for 30 days on Wednesday after calling for Saturday’s unapproved demonstration.

What happened this Saturday?

Last Saturday, more than 20,000 Russians took to the streets, demanding fair elections, and dozens were arrested.

It is unclear how many people turned up for the new unauthorised rally on 27 July but the numbers seem to have been sharply down.

According to police, about 3,500 people gathered, including about 700 journalists.

Police in riot gear pushed back the crowd from barriers surrounding the mayor’s office in central Moscow, hauling off detainees to police stations.

No -one was under any illusion that the large gathering would impress authorities into letting people express themselves peacefully. This rally went very much the same way others have done – arbitrary detentions, standoffs, crowds breaking off into the side streets.

The question is whether the anger over not being able to nominate a candidate – even for lower-level, city elections – would galvanise Muscovites into bigger, sustained expressions of dissent. After all, there are lots of residents not happy with the way Moscow government and Mayor Sobyanin run the city, or respond to popular concerns.

Certainly, the would-be candidates, most of them seasoned anti-Putin activists, are hoping that the resentment will linger. That is exactly why policy handlers in the Kremlin are desperate to put a lid on it.

With both Mr Putin’s ratings falling and the United Russia party deeply unpopular, chanting crowds in the capital may send a very powerful message to other regions preparing to hold their elections.

 

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