Russian opposition defy anti-government concert ban
Russian activists pressed ahead with plans to stage a banned rock concert on Sunday to rally opposition to routing a highway through a forest, despite worries that police would disperse the gathering.
Authorities detained one of the concert's main organisers and several unknown assailants attacked vehicles carrying musical equipment for the event, trying to scuttle plans to put on the concert in Pushkinskaya Square in the heart of Moscow, activists said.
Mikhail Shneider of the opposition movement Solidarnost was detained during a smaller protest in Moscow earlier in the day, his colleagues said.
"Mikhail Shneider's detention makes one think about a possible provocation," leading rights campaigner Lev Ponomaryov said.
"We know that authorities are very concerned about this rally, they even forbade us to hold a concert there," he said on the popular Echo of Moscow radio station.
Speaking on the same radio station, Shneider called his detention "a daring provocation" but vowed that the concert would go ahead.
Another activist said unknown assailants had sought to prevent the musical equipment from getting to the site of the rally.
"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 motorbikes and started trying to pierce the vehicles' tyres with iron rods," Verzilov said on Echo of Moscow, adding the drivers managed to chase the attackers away.
The concert's aim is to buttress efforts by environmental activists to oppose 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 expected 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 at 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.
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.
As of 1045 GMT, Pushkinskaya Square was cordonned off and dozens of buses with OMON riot police were stationed along its perimeter. The musical equipment for the concert was nowhere to be seen, an AFP photographer reported.
© 2010 AFP