Russia arrests opposition leaders on New Year's Eve

31st December 2010, Comments 0 comments

Russian police on Friday detained several opposition leaders among nearly 120 protesters during 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 Novosti news agency reported.

Nemtsov, a key leader of Russia's liberal opposition, was to be kept in police custody until Sunday, opposition activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the Interfax news agency.

Police also detained Eduard Limonov, an opposition writer and leader of the radical National Bolshevik Party, near his Moscow home about an hour before he and his supporters were to hold an unsanctioned rally alongside the authorised one.

Shortly after his arrest, a court sentenced Limonov to 15 days in prison for insulting police during his detention, a court spokesman, Pyotr Chenik, was quoted as saying by the RIA Novosti news agency.

"They wrote in the police report that I made rude remarks and violated the public order law," Limonov told Moscow Echo radio, calling the allegation "a lie".

Ilya Yashin, the leader of the youth wing of the liberal Yabloko group, was also detained during the Moscow protest, news reports said.

Russian police said they detained 68 people in Moscow and 50 in Saint Peterburg during two unsanctioned rallies.

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 demonstrations.

© 2010 AFP

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