Russia arrests opposition leaders on New Year's Eve

31st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian police on Friday detained several opposition leaders and more than 100 protesters during two New Year's Eve rallies held in central Moscow and Saint Petersburg, news reports said.

Moscow authorities allowed the opposition to stage a traditional end-of-month demonstration to assert their right to gather under the Russian constitution.

The 300-strong crowd chanted slogans in support of the jailed Kremlin critic and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose jail term was extended by six years Thursday, and called for broader political freedoms, news reports said.

But several opposition leaders, including former first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, broke through police lines, prompting their immediate arrest, the RIA Nosoti news agency reported.

The police also detained the writer Eduard Limonov and Ilya Yashin, leader of the youth wing of the liberal Yabloko group, news reports said.

A Moscow police spokesman said that 65 demonstrators had been detained in all, Interfax reported.

A similar unsanctioned rally in Russia's imperial capital of Saint Petersburg resulted in the arrest of about 50 people, RIA Novosti cited the local police spokesman as saying.

Opposition leaders call regular demonstrations on the 31st day of the month in honour of Article 31 of the constitution, granting Russians freedom of assembly.

Moscow authorities have until recent months refused to sanction such rallies, prompting frequent scuffles with the police.

There were no initial reports of violence during Friday's demonstration.

© 2010 AFP

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