Police raid Russian opposition activists ahead of protest

30th March 2011, Comments 0 comments

Armed police raided the office of opposition activist group Strategy 31 in central Moscow ahead of a banned protest on Thursday, a spokesman said Wednesday.

"Law enforcers roughly pushed their way into the office, breaking glass, without showing any documents. It's 15 to 20 people, some in uniform and some in plain clothes," said Alexander Averin, spokesman for The Other Russia opposition movement.

Averin told AFP he heard of the raid from an activist who managed to phone as police arrived, but that the four activists inside the office were no longer answering cell phones.

The Strategy 31 group, led by dissident and writer Eduard Limonov, organises a protest every 31st day of the month to defend the right to freedom of assembly, which is enshrined in article 31 of the Russian constitution.

On Thursday it plans to hold a protest on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad square, despite a veto from the authorities, which have fenced off the square.

Veteran activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, has received permission to hold a parallel rally on Pushkin Square, closer to the Kremlin.

Limonov broke away from Alexeyeva last year, after she agreed to compromise with Moscow's new mayor Sergei Sobyanin on the numbers of protesters at rallies in exchange for approval for protests to go ahead.

Earlier Wednesday, activists from Strategy 31 broke down fences on Triumfalnaya Ploshchad square, Averin said, adding that the raid could be linked to this.

The authorities also searched Strategy 31's office on January 30, the day before the previous demonstration, Averin said, adding, "It appears to be a tactic to scare activists on the eve of the protest."

Russian authorities arrested 20 people including Limonov at the last unsanctioned rally held by Strategy 31 in January, which gathered around 500 activists, among them former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov.

© 2011 AFP

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