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Dozens arrested during Constitution Day protests in Russia

More than 30 activists have been detained after defying a protest ban and holding 'individual' rallies against rights abuses. Among those held was the leader of Russia's leading liberal party.

Sergei Mitrokhin, the head of the opposition Yabloko party, was among 33 activists arrested on Saturday after they each attempted to hold "individual" protests in central Moscow.

The rally was due to coincide with Constitution Day, which commemorates the signing of the new Russian Constitution in 1993, following the fall of the Soviet Union.

Group protests need formal permission from authorities which are regularly denied, although no such consent is needed for single-person protests.

Mitrokhin told Agence-France Presse that he was accused of resisting police and would likely face 15 days in jail.

"I was holding a placard that read 'Respect our Constitution'," when he says he was told by police officers that his "safety was under threat."

More activists were detained when they turned up for another unauthorized rally after the authorities said the opposition was not allowed to hold a march, citing preparations for the New Year's holidays.

Another well known rights activist Lev Ponomaryov and Georgy Satarov, a former aid to Russia's first president Boris Yeltsin were also arrested.

Russia recently introduced a new law on protests, which threatens a five year jail term for anyone found to have violated the law three times within six months.

Earlier this year, a young activist, Ildar Dadin, was sentenced to three years in jail for repeatedly staging solo protests criticizing Russian authorities. He was the first activist to be handed down such a tough sentence under the new law.

Activists say the Kremlin has clamped down on peaceful protests in recent years, particularly since the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine last year.

mm/jm (AFP, AP)

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