Saturday 17 August 2019

New protests planned by Russian opposition despite 1,000 arrests

Grapple: Police try to detain protesters in the centre of Moscow. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko
Grapple: Police try to detain protesters in the centre of Moscow. AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko

Andrew Osborn

Russia's anti-Kremlin opposition said it was planning a nationwide protest next weekend despite police forcibly detaining more than 1,000 people on Saturday for attending what they said was an illegal march in Moscow to demand free elections.

Saturday's protest, conceived by opposition activists as a peaceful walk to protest against the exclusion of their candidates from a Moscow election next month, was systematically and sometimes violently dispersed by police.

OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group, said yesterday that police had detained 1,001 people on Saturday, up from its earlier estimate of just over 800 people. Many but not all of those detained were later released by police, but OVD-Info said 19 were kept in custody overnight.

It said some of those detained had their phones confiscated and had been denied access to a lawyer. Russian investigators had initiated a criminal case against one man, accusing him of injuring a police officer, the TASS news agency reported.

Faced with a wave of summer protests, authorities have opened criminal proceedings for what they term mass civil unrest, an offence punishable with up to 15 years in jail.

Although they have rejected protesters' complaints, they have said they'll allow protests in Moscow on Saturday and Sunday next weekend, albeit in a location away from the city centre which the opposition has rejected in the past.

But Leonid Volkov, an ally of jailed anti-Kremlin opposition politician Alexei Navalny, said late on Saturday that Mr Navalny's political movement planned to organise another of its own protests on August 10 which he said would be nationwide.

He said protesters would demand that jailed activists be released, that opposition candidates be allowed to run in the Moscow election, and that the mayor of Moscow and other top officials resign.

"This is a matter of human dignity, about the right to choose and express your opinion," Mr Volkov wrote on Twitter.

"Muscovites have had their elections stolen, are being arrested by the thousand, hundreds are being beaten and dozens jailed.

"Therefore we'll have to prove our existence on the streets of our cities."

He said the opposition did not plan to ask Moscow officials for permission to protest but would do so in other cities.

Irish Independent

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