Opposition activists detained at Russian rights protest
Police broke up an opposition protest in Moscow and detained around a dozen activists Tuesday, days after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin vowed tough action against unsanctioned gatherings.
Riot police rounded up protesters including opposition politician Boris Nemtsov at a demonstration in support of freedom of assembly that was held at the city's central Triumfalnaya Ploshchad square without official permission.
Nemtsov was detained as he handed out copies of a critical report he wrote on Putin, he told the Echo of Moscow radio station.
The protest was one of a series of "Strategy 31" demonstrations organised for the 31st day of the month in reference to Article 31 in the Russian constitution which permits peaceful demonstrations.
Among those detained were a priest with a sign reading "31" and a protester who held a poster with the faces of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev pasted onto the national symbol of a double-headed eagle, an AFP reporter said.
The crowd chanted slogans "Russia will be Free!" and "Russia without Putin!" and "This is our city", calling for respect for Russians' constitutional right to freedom of assembly.
The Triumfalnaya Ploshchad square was fenced off last week after the local government said it wanted to build a car park, a decision the opposition viewed as political pressure.
"It's all fenced off by soldiers and police," said Lyudmila Alexeyeva, one of the country's veteran human rights campaigners. "I am going home because there is nothing to do here."
Police also detained around 50 protesters in Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg where around 300 had gathered for a similar protest in the centre of the city.
Putin said in an interview published Monday that demonstrators deserved to be beaten up if they took part in unsanctioned demonstrations.
"They need to obtain permission from the local authorities... If they go out without permission, they'll take a cudgel to the head. That's all there is to it," Putin said in an interview with daily Kommersant.
© 2010 AFP