Russian police arrest 25 activists in highway protest
Russian police on Sunday arrested 25 activists as they held a protest against the felling of a forest outside Moscow to build a disputed highway.
Among those detained were the campaign's coordinator, Yevgenia Chirikova, liberal Yabloko party leader Sergei Mitrokhin and the leader of an opposition left-wing movement, Sergei Udaltsov, who spoke to AFP from a police station.
"We were detained by OMON (riot police) in a rough manner," Udaltsov said from a police station in the Moscow suburb of Khimki, adding that he was waiting with Chirikova and around 20 other activists.
Activists in a long-running campaign against the construction of a Moscow-Saint Petersburg highway through the Khimki forest outside Moscow met Sunday for a protest called "Stop the fascists in Khimki".
Around 200-300 people attended the rally, in which protesters planned to walk from a rail station to the site of the felling where activists have set up a camp, Chirikova said.
"The OMON troops beat up people in the buses," Chirikova told AFP. "Udaltsov has a broken rib and his arms are covered with bruises. It was a very serious fight."
Chirikova wrote on Twitter that she was later charged with failing to obey police, a civil offence that carries a maximum sentence of 15 days in jail.
Moscow region police said in a statement that protesters "tried to hold an unsanctioned meeting" in a park and ignored police requests to disperse.
"Acts of defiance towards the police were also recorded," it added, saying that 25 of the most active participants were detained.
The detentions came after 10 activists were detained at the felling site last month as they protested against what they called illegal logging.
Chirikova's campaign against the Khimki highway has gained popular support. A huge rally was staged last summer, led by rock singer Yury Shevchuk, and President Dmitry Medvedev responded by temporarily shelving the project.
But the Russian government decided late last year that the first modern highway between Moscow and Saint Petersburg should go ahead, despite destroying around 100 hectares (247 acres) of trees.
© 2011 AFP