Russian police arrest pro-Khodorkovsky protesters: AFP

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Moscow police arrested some 30 supporters of imprisoned former oil baron Mikhail Khodorkovsky after they took to the streets to mark his 48th birthday.

Around 200 people, some wearing t-shirts bearing the face of the former tycoon, marched down the Arbat pedestrian walkway in central Moscow where they released balloons also emblazoned with Khodorkovsky's face.

Police began arresting demonstrators as they started shouting slogans like "Freedom to Khodorkovsky, Putin in prison."

Campaigners have accused former president and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of having pursued a personal and political vendetta against Khodorkovsky, spearheading the prosecutions against him.

Khodorkovsky, who at the height of his powers was funding Russian opposition groups, was first arrested in 2003 and was eventually convicted of fraud and tax evasion.

In central St. Petersburg, where a similar demonstration was authorised by authorities, around 150 people gathered to mark his birthday.

"Even idiots understand that Khodorkovsky is a victim of summary justice," said Dmitry, a 36-year-old engineer.

Khodorkovsky was sentenced in 2005 to an eight-year sentence, but the jail term was increased to 14 years following a second trial.

His sentence was then reduced to 13 years on an appeal.

© 2011 AFP

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