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Police thwart Moscow rally, seize dozens

Police thwarted a banned anti-Kremlin protest in central Moscow on Sunday, seizing dozens of demonstrators and shoving them into trucks.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Police thwarted a banned anti-Kremlin protest in central Moscow on Sunday, seizing dozens of demonstrators and shoving them into trucks.

Organizers said 130 people were detained around the capital but police put the number at 90. The opposition movement headed by fierce Kremlin critic and former chess champion Garry Kasparov said the co-leader of the group was one of those seized.

The Other Russia movement organized the protest, in defiance of a ban, to draw attention to Russia's economic troubles and to protest Kremlin plans to extend the presidential term from four years to six. Critics say the constitutional change as part of a retreat from democracy and is aimed at strengthening the grip of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his allies.

News broadcasts on the main television networks made no mention of the Moscow crackdown or of protests in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok.

New anti-Kremlin movement
Kasparov and other prominent liberals have just launched a new anti-Kremlin movement called Solidarity in a bid to unite Russia's liberal forces and encourage a popular revolution similar to those in Ukraine and Georgia.

Kasparov had vowed to carry out Sunday's protest although authorities had denied permission for it.

Before the scheduled start, hundreds of officers guarded Triumph Square, which was ringed by police trucks and metal barriers.

Police roughly grabbed protesters who tried to enter the square, dragging at least 25 people into waiting trucks.

Police also seized Other Russia co-leader Eduard Limonov along with a handful of bodyguards as they walked toward the square. They were bundled into police vehicles.

Kasparov and a group of supporters decided to avoid police by marching in a different location, then set off for a third site after finding another strong police presence, spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich said.

Dozens of protesters gathered at the third site and marched about a kilometer (half a mile) along a major street, shouting slogans such as "Russia without Putin!" before they dispersed.

Kasparov traveled by car and the march was over when he arrived, Litvinovich said.

Kasparov's Web site said police in Moscow also broke up a protest by a hard-line group of retired generals in a square nearby and detained about 50 participants. The group, the Soviet Officers' Union, could not be reached for comment.

Dozens detained in Moscow
The Moscow police said they detained 90 people. Some of the detainees were members of a pro-Kremlin youth group that staged a counter-demonstration, dropping leaflets from a concert hall rooftop.

Litvinovich said 130 people were detained in Moscow, including 18 who tried to enter the Kremlin through one of its guarded gates.

"Today we saw a police state and its methods," she said.

Other Russia said most were released but many were ordered to appear in court later on charges of involvement in a prohibited public activity. It said Limonov appeared before a judge and was fined 500 rubles (about $18; euro13) for that infraction.

Lyudmila Morozova, 61, a nurse from the southern city of Voronezh, had planned to protest in Triumph Square but was put off by the massive police presence. She said the police actions showed that the government was afraid "some kind of power will rise against them."

"I want my country to develop along a democratic path," said Morozova, standing against a wall at the edge of the square. "It's not only not democratic, it's becoming totalitarian."

She said she has joined Solidarity.

Kremlin wary of public anger
In St. Petersburg, about 200 Other Russia supporters demonstrated at a site approved by city authorities. But local leader Olga Kurnosova said at least one organizer was detained beforehand, and St. Petersburg police said about 10 people were detained at a separate site.

Popular support for Other Russia and other vocal opposition groups is minimal, but the Kremlin is wary about any evidence of public anger as its struggles with a potentially politically damaging economic downturn.

There has been little evidence of change in the government's heavy-handed treatment of critics since Dmitry Medvedev succeeded Putin as president in May and stressed the importance of civil rights in his inaugural address.

Ekho Moskvy radio and Russian news agencies reported that several thousand motorists took part in protests in the Pacific coast city of Vladivostok against government plans to raise import tariffs on used cars.