Police ordered anti-Putin activists on Tuesday to abandon the downtown Moscow camp they have been occupying for over a week.
A Moscow court had earlier ruled in favor of complaints by local residents and obliged police to “take action to put a halt to disorder” at the camp, which was set up in the wake of protests against the May 7 inauguration of President Vladimir Putin for a third term.
Officers visited the camp later on Tuesday evening and told protesters to leave by midday local time (08:00 GMT) on Wednesday.
Activists later voted to stay until the police arrived and began making arrests, before moving to a new location in the city.
“Moscow is big, there are lots of places to go,” opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said before the vote.
But city officials said earlier in the day they would not permit protesters to set up another camp.
The round-the-clock protest on a square in Moscow’s fashionable Chistye Prudy neighborhood is Russia’s first Occupy-type protest and has attracted around 2,000 people every evening, with numbers falling to around 200-300 in the afternoon.
The camp has attracted activists of a variety of political persuasions, from anarchists to left-wingers, all apparently united only by their opposition to Putin. Around a dozen masked and hooded nationalists could be seen earlier on Tuesday preparing to defend the camp after erroneous reports that police were on their way.
The authorities also said the protesters had caused some $650,000 worth of damage to greenery during their stay, an accusation rubbished by protest leaders.
“People here have been behaving calmly and responsibly,” said opposition parliamentarian Dmitry Gudkov. “Police officers thanked us just today because there is less crime in the area now.”
It was at Chistye Prudy that the first mass protest against Putin took place after last December’s disputed parliamentary polls, as some 5,000 demonstrators led by anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny attempted to take their discontent to the nearby Kremlin walls. Much larger anti-Putin rallies followed in the months to come.
But on May 6, the largely peaceful protests suddenly turned violent as demonstrators and police fought pitched battles in Moscow on the eve of Putin’s inauguration. Hundreds of activists then spent the next three days roaming through the capital’s squares and boulevards, before gathering at Chistye Prudy, around a statue of 19th century Kazakh poet-philosopher Abai Kunanbayev, who quickly became the symbol of the camp.
Putin has yet to comment directly on the camp, but his spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said last week it would be dispersed.
A host of Russian literary figures led some 10,000 people to the camp on Sunday in a test of civil freedoms, ensuring national media coverage.