Russians raged by the impending inauguration of Vladimir Putin to a new word as chairman protested Saturday in ratings of cities across the country — and police responded by reportedly arresting virtually 1,600 of them.
Among those apprehended was protest organizer Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who the hell Putin’s most prominent foe. Police confiscated Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from Moscow’s Pushkin Square, where thousands were gathered for an unauthorized protest.
Police also employed batons against protesters who chanted “Putin is a burglar! ” and “Russia will be free! “
Demonstrations under the slogan “He is not our czar” took place throughout the country, from Yakutsk in the far northeast to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad on the periphery of Europe.
The protests demonstrated that Navalny’s opposition, although considered beleaguered by Russian officials and largely ignored by state-controlled television, has sizeable subsistence in much of the country.
“I think that Putin isn’t worthy of resulting this country. He has been doing it for 18 years and has done nothing good for it, ” told Moscow demonstrator Dmitry Nikitenko. “He should leave for good.”
OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political repression, said late Saturday that 1,599 people had been detained at demonstrations in 26 Russian cities. It told 702 detained in Moscow alone, and the other 232 in St. Petersburg.
Moscow police said about 300 people were arrested in the capital, nation news bureaux told, and there was no official countrywide tally.
“Let my son run! ” Iraida Nikolaeva hollered, running after police in Moscow when they imprisoned her son. “He did not do anything! Are you a human or not? Do you live in Russia or not? “
Navalny was to be charged with disobeying police, an offense that carries a sentence of up to 15 days, news reports said, though when he would face a judge was not immediately clear. Navalny has served several multi-week stretches in jail on similar charges.
In St. Petersburg, police blocked off a stretching of Nevsky Prospekt as a crowd of about 1,000 marched along the renowned boulevard. Video depicted some demonstrators being detained.
Putin is to be inaugurated for a new six-year word on Monday after winning re-election in March with 77 percent of the vote. Navalny had hoped to challenge him on the ballot but was blocked because of a felony sentence in a case that supporters regard as falsified in order to marginalize him.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert criticized the actions of the Russian police.
“The United States condemn #Russia’s detention of hundreds of peaceful protesters and calls for their immediate release. Leaders who are secure in their own legitimacy don’t apprehend their peaceful adversaries for protest, ” she tweeted.
Navalny has called nationwide demonstrations several times in the past year, and their turnout has rattled the Kremlin.
Saturday’s protests attracted crowds of hundreds in cities that are far remote from Moscow, challenging authorities’ contention that Navalny and other opposition figures appeal only to a small, largely urban elite.
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