1,400 Arrested At Moscow Election Protest – Reports

Riot police officers detain a protester during an unauthorised rally demanding independent and opposition candidates be allowed to run for office in local election in September, at Moscow’s Trubnaya Square on July 27, 2019.
Kirill KUDRYAVTSEV / AFP

 

Russian police arrested almost 1,400 people as they gathered in Moscow at the weekend to demand free and fair elections, a monitor said, the biggest crackdown on a rally in the country in years.

Some 3,500 people took part in the unauthorised protest on Saturday, according to official figures, after authorities blocked prominent opposition candidates from taking part in city elections.

Police used batons on protesters as they tried to gather outside city hall, and AFP reporters at the scene saw demonstrators with injuries.

The rally comes amid wider public frustration over declining living standards that has hit President Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings.

A week before, 22,000 took to the streets in a sanctioned protest, calling on authorities to reverse their decision ahead of the September city council vote.

After that demonstration, investigators raided the homes and headquarters of a number of disqualified candidates. Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days for calling the fresh protest.

Several would-be candidates were detained before or during the protest on Saturday. Navalny’s team has called for another rally next weekend.

OVD-Info, an organisation that monitors protests, reported Sunday that 1,373 people were arrested.

It said this was the highest number since mass demonstrations in 2012, when tens of thousands protested Putin’s return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.

“The authorities have lost all sense of reason. They are behaving in a way that is almost sadistic,” Ilya Yashin, a barred opposition candidate, wrote on Twitter late Saturday.

‘Disproportionate Police Force’

The US embassy in Moscow denounced the use of what it said was “disproportionate police force”.

The violence and arrests “undermine rights of citizens to participate in the democratic process,” embassy spokeswoman Andrea Kalan wrote in a tweet.

The EU said police actions undermined “the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” while Amnesty International also criticised the crackdown.

Elections to Moscow’s 45-seat legislative body, currently controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, are due to be held in six weeks.

While pro-Kremlin candidates enjoy the support of the state, independent candidates say they have been made to jump through countless hoops in order to get on the ballot for the city polls.

Following pickets last week, including outside the local election commission building, investigators said they were launching a criminal probe into obstructing the work of election officials.

If found guilty, organisers risk up to five years in prison.

Local polls are a rare opportunity for dissenting voices to participate in political life as anti-Kremlin parties have been squeezed out of parliament over Putin’s two decades in power.

Russian Police Detain Opposition Leader Alexei Navalny At Rally

A still image taken from an AFPTV footage shows police officers detaining opposition leader Alexei Navalny during a rally calling for a boycott of March 18 presidential elections, Moscow, January 28, 2018.
Alexandra Dalsbaek / AFP

Police on Sunday detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny at a rally in Moscow which he had called to protest March presidential polls expected to extend Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin term to 2024.

Russian police on Sunday detained opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow as thousands rallied across the country against a March election expected to extend Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin term.

Surrounded by supporters, the 41-year-old charismatic politician chanted “Swindlers and thieves” before being detained shortly afterward at an unsanctioned gathering in the city center amid heavy police presence.

Navalny urged Muscovites to take to the streets despite his arrest.

“You are not rallying for me, but for yourselves and your future,” he tweeted.

Heeding a call by Putin’s bete noire, thousands braved freezing temperatures to stage rallies in dozens of cities to protest upcoming “pseudo-elections,” as Navalny and his supporters refer to them.

Many chanted and brandished placards saying “Voters’ strike” and “Without me.”

About 3,000 to 4,000 people turned up for the unsanctioned rally in Moscow, AFP reporters said.

Authorities beefed up security, dispatching police vans and passenger buses to the city center, but police largely refrained from arresting protesters.

Ahead of the Moscow rally police broke into Navalny’s headquarters using a power saw, interrupting a live broadcast covering protests in the east of the country.

Police also detained several employees of his Anti-Corruption Foundation as well as supporters.

 ‘Not elections’ 

In Moscow, a crowd of protesters was later allowed to walk down to Red Square. Authorities estimated the Moscow turnout at around 1,000 people.

Police said Navalny faced penalties for organising an unpermitted protest, adding he had been taken to a police station.

Around 240 people were detained across the country, according to OVD-Info, an independent group which monitors crackdowns on demonstrations.

Sunday’s turnout paled in comparison to last year’s rallies when tens of thousands rallied against corruption among Russia’s elite in March and June 2017.

Police unleashed a severe crackdown afterward, arresting more than 1,000 people including schoolchildren.

Navalny himself served three jail sentences of 15 days, 25 days and 20 days for organising unauthorised protests last year.

But many protesters said Sunday authorities would not intimidate them.

“These are not elections because we already know the result,” Elena Ruzhe, 62, told AFP in Moscow.

“I’m not scared to protest,” added the former culture ministry worker.

Protester Alexandra Fedorova, who wore a fur coat, said it was wrong not to let Navalny take part in the vote.

“I don’t see a future. There is nobody to vote for,” the 27-year-old said.

 ‘Tired of this quagmire’ 

Protesters expressed similar sentiments in the second city of Saint Petersburg, the Russian leader’s hometown, where at least 1,000 people rallied, some chanting “Russia without Putin” and “Putin is a thief.”

“I want change,” Andrei Petrov, 20, told AFP in the former imperial capital. “We are tired of living in this quagmire.”

Earlier in the day opposition supporters protested in far eastern Russia and Siberia, including in the northern city of Yakutsk where Russians rallied despite temperatures of around minus 45 Celsius (minus 49 Fahrenheit).

In the Ural city of Yekaterinburg, around 1,000 people rallied, with the city’s mayor joining the crowd.

Navalny — seen as the only politician with enough stamina to take on Putin — has built a robust protest movement despite constant police harassment, tapping into the anger of a younger generation yearning for change.

He says the upcoming election will be little more than a coronation of Putin who is expected to win a fourth presidential term and extend his Kremlin stay until 2024.

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov warned unsanctioned rallies would lead to “certain consequences” — a thinly-veiled promise of punishment.

Last year Navalny mounted a forceful bid to run for president but officials ruled him ineligible due to a criminal conviction which he says is politically motivated.

Navalny has said he would use the full force of his campaign — including over 200,000 volunteers — to organise “voters’ strikes” and encourage Russians to stay away from polling stations on election day.

After 18 years of leadership, both as president and prime minister, Putin fatigue is spreading across Russia.

But the post-Soviet turbulence of the 1990s remains deeply ingrained in Russia’s collective psyche, making many reluctant to take to the streets, observers say.

The Kremlin’s biggest headache is the possibility of a low turnout which will harm Putin’s hopes for a strong new mandate, analysts say.

Putin won the previous election in 2012 on a turnout of 65 percent and authorities are pulling out all the stops to boost the figures this year.

AFP

Russian Police Detain Dozens For Umbrella Protest

Russian Police on Saturday, February 8, detained dozens of umbrella-wielding demonstrators protesting after three television providers dropped a station that made its name covering massive street demonstrations against President Vladimir Putin.

The arrests follow reports of the detention of up to 14 gay rights activists on Friday, the day of the opening of Sochi Olympic Games – an event which has drawn international criticism of Russia’s human rights record.

“We want to protect the freedom of media in our country…Now they attack Dozhd. We want at least some remnants of freedom to stay on in our country,” said supporter Arina, standing under an umbrella next to her young son.

Saturday’s demonstrators had gathered near Moscow’s Red Square to protest the “censorship” of Dozhd (TV Rain), an independent-minded television station which has aired aggressive reporting critical of Russian authorities and even-handed broadcasts on Ukraine’s anti-government protests.

“I’m shocked. When they began opening umbrellas police started detaining them. It was like: ‘If you open an umbrella, proceed to the police bus’,” Yekaterina, a Dozhd supporter, said, giving only her first name.

Dozhd, which faced criticism after asking on its website if Leningrad, now St Petersburg, should have been surrendered to Nazi Germany to save lives during a World War II blockade, was dropped by three TV providers in and around Moscow in late January.

The station said the move amounted to “censorship and pressure”, a sentiment echoed by protesters on Saturday.

Policemen frogmarched protesters to vans after they unfurled umbrellas to show their support for TV Rain.

“Those are just people, the viewers of TV Dozhd (Rain). We did not and do not call on anyone to come to picket lines. But we are grateful to them for that support. If I’m not mistaken, that is the third action that has been held in Moscow. This support gives us strength to go on working in a difficult situation,” said Dozhd producer Yegor Maksimov.

Around 40 people were detained in total, Russian newswire Interfax reported, citing a police spokesman.

Bomber kills 7 Russian policemen at funeral

A suicide bomber blew himself up as policemen in southern Russia gathered on Sunday for the funeral of a slain colleague, killing at least seven of the policemen and badly wounding 12 other people, investigators said.

The funeral was held at the home of an officer who had been shot dead the night before by militants in Ingushetia, one of the predominantly Muslim republics in Russia’s restive North Caucasus region.

In the nearby republic of Dagestan, two masked gunmen burst into a Shiite mosque during Saturday evening prayers and opened fire, wounding eight people, police said.

Shiites are a minority in Dagestan and throughout the North Caucasus, where an Islamic insurgency has raged for years.

The latest attacks took place as Muslims in Russia and around the world prepared for the feast that celebrates the end of the holy month of Ramadan.