Russian police break up protest camp, detain activists | News | DW | 17.05.2012
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Russian police break up protest camp, detain activists

In Moscow, police have broken up a protest camp and detained several activists. The opposition movement is fighting to maintain momentum after Vladimir Putin's election victory and inauguration as president.

Russian police arrested at least 20 protesters on Wednesday night, after breaking up a sit-in demonstration at a central Moscow park.

Moscowauthorities launched a morning raid against a camp of activists in the center of Chistoprudny Boulevard. A court had ordered the site cleared, citing complaints by local residents as well as city officials, who claimed that the demonstrators had caused 20 million rubles ($646,000 or 507,000 euros) worth of damage.

The protesters subsequently moved to another park, located at Kudrinskaya Square, where several hundred other activists had gathered. The state news agency, RIA Novosti, reported that the detentions began when police were investigating food deliveries to the demonstrators and their attempt to set up a field kitchen.

Prominent opposition leader Ilya Yashin was reportedly among those arrested.

"Police created the provocation … having taken away our money and having arrested activists," Yashin said in a message on microblog site Twitter. "It led to a conflict and our dispersal."

Fight for relevance

Opposition activists are trying to sustain their protest movement despite Vladimir Putin's victory in the presidential election in March. The movement began in December 2011 over allegations of fraud during parliamentary elections that gave Putin's United Russia a slim majority.

Around 20,000 demonstrators gathered the day before Putin's May 7 inauguration. Fierce clashes erupted with police when some protesters tried to march on the Kremlin. Popular blogger and anti-corruption lawyer Alexei Navalny and Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov were sentenced to 15 days in jail following that demonstration.

Last weekend, authorities let a group of popular writers and several thousand demonstrators march across downtown Moscow unimpeded. Although authorities tolerate demonstrations that strictly adhere to the law, Putin's loyalists have proposed a massive increase in fines for participating in unsanctioned rallies.

The proposed legislation would raise the fine from 5,000 rubles to 1,500,000 rubles. Some of Putin's allies have also proposed stripping immunity from three lawmakers who have played key roles in the protests. Ilya Ponomarev, Gennady Gudkov and Dmitry Gudkov are all members of the socialist Just Russia faction.

slk/ncy (AP, Reuters)