MOSCOW, May 6 (Alexey Eremenko, Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – Police cracked down on an anti-Putin rally in Moscow on Sunday, making arrests after hundreds of demonstrators broke through their lines in a bid to take their protest to the Kremlin walls.
“Fascists!” shouted protesters as police reformed and clashes continued. “You are breaking the law!”
Police said a number of officers were injured by protesters armed with bottles and stones. A number of police helmets floated in the Moskva river after being torn from officers.
Protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front movement, was among those detained. Well-known blogger and anti-corruption activist Alexei Navalny was also arrested.
“Don’t leave!” Navalny urged protesters in a Twitter post after being detained. “Stay for as long as it takes!”
A RIA Novosti correspondent at the scene reported arbitrary arrests and said one protester had been detained by eight officers for the apparent crime of wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, the symbol of the global Occupy! movement.
Police also said a number of journalists from the state-run NTV channel had been beaten by protesters. NTV aired a controversial documentary earlier this year that alleged protesters had been paid “cookies and money” to attend last winter’s “For Fair Elections” rallies.
Violence flared after Udaltsov led a mass sit-in and demanded to be allowed to march directly to the Kremlin and for President-elect Vladimir Putin’s victory at the disputed March 4 presidential polls to be annulled.
Opposition figures and RIA Novosti correspondents at the scene estimated a crowd of around 50,000. Udaltsov said in a Twitter post that there were “no less than 100,000” at the rally. A police spokesman said there were 8,000 people present and that Udaltsov had “been out in the sun too long.” A Just Russia parliamentarian Ilya Ponomarev also estimated a crowd of 100,000.
“This was not Udaltsov’s rally,” political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told the Dozhd online TV channel. “This was a rally of angry citizens.”
Putin won a landslide victory in March 4 elections marred by allegations of vote fraud to secure a third term in the Kremlin after being forced to step down by the Constitution in 2008.
Udaltsov said police in several Russia regions had detained activists attempting to travel to the demonstration.
Protesters, as at previous marches, represented a wide range of political views and organizations, from communists to anarchists, from liberal reformers to nationalists.
The websites of a number of independent media outlets reported coming under apparent hacker attack ahead of the march.
Putin supporters gathered across town at a separate rally on Sunday. Organizers said some 50,000 people were in attendance. Opposition figures accused the authorities of coercing government employees to attend previous pro-Putin rallies in recent months. Putin admitted earlier this year that the accusations could be true, but said the effect on crowd numbers should “not be exaggerated.”