MOSCOW — Russian police detained dozens of anti-Kremlin protesters as they tried to demonstrate for the right to assemble on Triumph Square in central Moscow.
Similar protests and detentions were reported in St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod.
The protesters were heavily outnumbered by riot police. At least 54 of a group of more radical opposition members, led by Eduard Limonov and Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front party, were dragged away to police buses as revelers chanted “Shame” and “Freedom!”
Police detained or sent home the protesters..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 that permits peaceful demonstrations.
Sixty-seven year old protester Nikolai Filipovich wore a badge embossed with the phrase “Freedom of Assembly.”
“The police consistently break up these gatherings and don’t allow us to come together,” he said. “They arrest everyone, one after another. Listen to how the police carry on shouting while the people chant ‘Russia without Putin, Russia without Putin.’”
Two Opposition Protests
A separate protest – owing to a split within the opposition movement — was held on Moscow’s Pushkin Square and led by veteran rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva.
Lyudmila Alekseyeva addresses the crowd, with a policeman standing guard in the foreground.
Alexeyeva criticized the United Russia party, led by the country’s prime minister, Vladimir Putin.
“Today, it is not down to us who leads our country,” she said. “It is the people who are in power who decide and of course they do this in their own interests. Today’s regime was established by United Russia, which has shown they do not take our interests into account.”
With parliamentary elections approaching in December and presidential elections a year from now, the rights activists now plan to gather at the end of every month, regardless of the date to protest for “free and fair elections.”
Former State Duma deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov addressed the crowd from a makeshift stage, where a banner hung overhead and read, “Respect the constitution!” He told the crowd that the movement had scored a “certain victory” for being allowed to take place at all. But he cautioned that arrests were being made.
“For the umpteenth time on Triumph Square, half an hour ago, Eduard Limonov was arrested,” he said. “In St. Petersburg, a couple of dozen protesters were arrested, including Boris Nemtsov and Ilya Yashin.”
Ryzhkov told the crowd, “Did these people want to blow something up or smash windows? No, of course not. They tried to hold a peaceful and constitutional demonstration.”
Earlier this week, a report was released that Ryzhkov had co-authored accusing Putin of presiding over a boom in corruption and enriching his inner circle of friends and family.
The rally on Pushkin Square was officially sanctioned by the authorities and no one was detained.
More than 100 “Strategy 31″ protesters were arrested in St. Petersburg and between 10 and 15 people were detained in Nizhny Novgorod, according to the Interfax news agency.
Opposition leader Limonov and Konstantin Kosyakin of the Left Front were among those arrested in Moscow.
Focusing On The Leaders
One of the protesters, Aslan Khasavov, on Triumph Square said he saw police stop a car with Limonov and take him away. He said that Kosyakin was also arrested.
“[But] that’s it,” he said. “I even saw [the police release] two simple citizens who weren’t leaders. It looks like they were trying to arrest only the opposition leaders.”
Riot police block a street during the rally in Moscow.A large group of black-helmeted riot police surrounded but did not touch an elderly lady clutching a banner that read, “The hangmen want to snuff out the truth. Vote for freedom and don’t be silent!”
Four protesters were detained by a group of OMON special forces after they climbed up scaffolding on a building on the side of Triumph Square and attempted to unfurl a huge banner.
Activists said the authorities tried to intimidate them prior to the gathering in order to discourage them from showing up to the protest.
Early on March 31, the group known as “Strategy 31″ released a statement saying its offices in central Moscow were raided on the night of March 30 by 20 uniformed police officers.
The statement said the officers briefly detained four activists.
“Law-enforcement officers acting on orders from their managers are trying to scare those who support the freedom to assemble,” the statement said.