Scores detained as Russian activists protest

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Russian police on Thursday detained opposition politicians Boris Nemtsov and Eduard Limonov as they joined hundreds of activists at protests in central Moscow and Saint Petersburg.

Authorities arrested more than 100 people in Saint Petersburg and around 50 people in Moscow, police and activists said.

Some 300-400 protesters led by Nemtsov, an outspoken Kremlin critic and former government minister, gathered in Saint Petersburg, Russia's second city and hometowm of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev, to protest against Putin's rule.

The activists marched down the city's main thoroughfare Nevsky Prospekt chanting "Russia without Putin" and "Down with police state," while police closely followed the protesters and a helicopter swirled overhead.

The protest was one of a series of "Strategy 31" demonstrations organised for the 31st day of the month in reference to Article 31 in the Russian constitution which permits peaceful demonstrations.

Dissident and writer Eduard Limonov, who leads the Strategy 31 group, was himself arrested as he was going to participate in a similar rally in Moscow.

"I was driving past the Triumfalnaya Ploshchad," he said on popular Echo of Moscow radio, referring to a central Moscow square where protesters had planned to gather.

"Traffic police spotted us, took me out of my car and put me into a bus." Police also detained other activists as they approached the square, which was fenced off last year after the local government said it wanted to build a car park, a decision the opposition viewed as political pressure.

Police detained around 50 people at that protest, opposition activist Matvei Krylov told AFP. He himself was detained and beaten up by men in plainclothes as police looked on, he added.

Limonov's detention comes after armed police on Wednesday raided the offices of the Strategy 31 group.

The protest at the Triumfalnaya Ploshchad square was vetoed by the authorities but another opposition figure, veteran activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva, who is head of the Moscow Helsinki Group, had received permission to hold a parallel rally on Pushkin Square, also in the city centre.

That rally went ahead as planned.

Limonov broke away from Alexeyeva last year, after she agreed to compromise with Moscow's new mayor Sergei Sobyanin on the numbers of protesters at rallies in exchange for approval for protests to go ahead.

Analysts say Russia's fragmented opposition is unable muster major protests and does not have a clear leader, factors that play into the authorities' hands ahead of parliamentary polls in December and presidential vote next year.

© 2011 AFP

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