US concerned at arrest of Russia protesters
The White House on Thursday expressed concern at the detention of 150 people in St Petersburg and Moscow at protests highlighting the importance of the right of peaceful assembly.
Police had earlier detained opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Eduard Limonov as they joined hundreds of activists at protests in the Russian capital and in Saint Petersburg.
The protest was one of a series of "Strategy 31" demonstrations organized for the 31st day of the month in reference to Article 31 in the Russian constitution which permits peaceful demonstrations.
National Security Council spokesman Tommy Vietor said Washington was concerned at the detention of Article 31 demonstrators, some of whom were chanting slogans critical of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
"The United States reiterates the importance of embracing and protecting universal values, including freedoms of expression and assembly, enshrined in the Russian Constitution as well as in international agreements Russia has signed," Vietor said.
"Freedom of assembly and freedom of expression are not only vital ingredients of sound political systems, they are essential for economic modernization and broad-based prosperity.
"Without freedom of assembly, it will be impossible to foster genuine competition during Russia's upcoming parliamentary elections in December."
The Obama administration has made much of its "reset" of relations with the Russian government of President Dmitry Medvedev, but has often also spoken out at what it sees as infringements of basic rights in the country.
In an article in the International Herald Tribune penned after he returned from Russia this month, Vice President Joe Biden warned investors could avoid Russia if there was "backsliding" on human rights.
Biden said that universal human values, real opposition parties, an independent media and impartial courts were the best tools for fighting corruption, which he said was the biggest barrier to economic growth in Russia.
© 2011 AFP