Russian opposition defies anti-government concert ban
Russian activists pressed ahead with plans to stage Sunday an unsanctioned rock concert to rally opposition to routing a highway through a forest, despite worries that police would disperse the gathering.
Several unknown assailants attacked vehicles carrying musical equipment for the event, trying to scuttle plans to stage the concert at Pushkinskaya Square in the heart of Moscow, activists said.
"Several bikers in black outfits and motorcycle helmets, their faces invisible, surrounded two Gazelle trucks carrying sound equipment for the event," said Pyotr Verzilov, an activist with art collective Voina, or War.
"They jumped off their motorcycles and started trying to pierce the vehicles' tyres with iron rods," Verzilov said on the popular Echo of Moscow radio station, adding the drivers managed to chase the attackers away.
The aim of the concert is to buttress efforts by environmental activists to fight against the construction of a highway through Khimki forest outside Moscow, which has become a symbol for Russians fighting for their rights.
Authorities have in the past used force to disperse anti-government protests in Moscow, even though the country's opposition is weak and fragmented and its protests usually do not attract a lot of sympathisers.
Organisers however said they expect that some 1,000 people would turn up at the protest at which several popular musicians, including Yury Shevchuk, lead singer of the popular rock band DDT who is openly critical of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, are expected to perform.
Police say the opposition have received permission to stage a three-hour protest set to begin from 1300 GMT, but not a concert and opposition activists say Moscow authorities have told them that they will not allow the concert to go ahead.
"The authorities have banned the concert," environmental activist Yaroslav Nikitenko told AFP.
Moscow police spokesman Anatoly Lastovetsky confirmed to AFP that the opposition had permission to conduct the protest only and that around 400 policemen were expected to enforce order.
Lastovetsky would not say whether police would disperse the gathering if organisers went ahead with the concert.
© 2010 AFP