Image: Police detain a anti-Kremlin protester in Moscow
Sergey Ponomarev  /  AP
Police detain a participant of an unauthorized anti-Kremlin protest in Moscow on Wednesday.
By Associated Press Writer
updated 3/31/2010 4:49:43 PM ET 2010-03-31T20:49:43

Russian police broke up anti-Kremlin protests in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Wednesday, detaining dozens of demonstrators who had defied bans in holding the rallies.

About 200 protesters gathered near a St. Petersburg shopping mall on the main avenue, Nevsky Prospekt, chanted "Russia will be free!" and "Constitution!"

Police quickly dispersed the protesters, rounding up about 30.

In Moscow, several dozen activists attempted to hold a rally in the center but were thwarted by police, who detained another 30 or so, including opposition leader Eduard Limonov.

The opposition has called such rallies on the 31st day of previous months as well — a nod to the 31st Article of the Russian constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly.

Eclipsed by attacks
Both of Wednesday's anti-Kremlin protests had been banned by authorities.

The demonstrations were overshadowed, however, by this week's deadly suicide bombing attacks in the Russian capital and in the southern Caucasus region. Some of the activists toned down their anti-government rallying to pay tribute to victims of Monday's bombings in the Moscow subway, which killed 39 and injured scores of commuters during rush hour.

A counter-demonstration by some 1,500 pro-Kremlin youth activists in Moscow focused on denouncing terrorism, at the same time and place where police were rounding up the opposition protests.

Other prominent activists including opposition leader Boris Nemtsov and veteran human rights defender Lyudmila Alexeyeva went to the Park Kultury subway station to lay flowers near the site of Monday's explosion. An unidentified man hit the 83-year-old Alexeyeva in the head, and was subsequently arrested by police, who opened a criminal investigation.

Fight for freedoms
In St. Petersburg, members of the United Civil Front opposition movement and the liberal Yabloko party split from other protesters to walk silently around the Alexander Column in front of the State Hermitage Museum and pass out brochures with the text of the constitution. Many wore black bands in the memory of the bombings' victims.

One activist warned against the government using this week's attacks to further roll back freedoms.

"If someone wants to get safety at the sake of freedom, they will get nothing," said Olga Kurnosova, the head of St. Petersburg's branch of the United Civil Front.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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