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Riot Police Violently Break Up March

Police violently quashed an opposition march near Pushkin Square on Saturday, beating and detaining more than 100 people, including former chess champion Garry Kasparov.

Kasparov, a leader of The Other Russia coalition that organized the Dissenters' March, declared the protest a success Sunday and predicted that it would pave the way for larger crowds in the future.

"The main success is that the march happened," Kasparov said by telephone. "This was an indication that people are being stirred into social activism. People are becoming more decisive."

He was fined $40 for publicly slandering the government and released Saturday night. He denied wrongdoing.

A Dissenters' March was also held in St. Petersburg on Sunday, and police violently clashed with protesters there as well.

It was unclear exactly how many people were detained in Moscow. Police put the figure at around 170, but Alexander Averin, spokesman for the unregistered National Bolshevik Party and an organizer of the march, said 150 members of his group alone had been arrested.

Kasparov said about 7,000 people showed up at opposition rallies on Pushkin and Turgenev squares, but other organizers said the number was closer to 4,000.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov praised the way police handled the protesters. "The ultra-radicals were trying to carry out an illegal march," he said by telephone Sunday. "They were stopped. That's the way it was, and that's the way it will be."

The Kremlin even got some support from former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, who was visiting President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg over the weekend. Berlusconi said the media had exaggerated the number of anti-Putin demonstrators.

In the hours before Saturday's march, 9,000 regular and OMON riot police were deployed in the capital, including many along Tverskaya Ulitsa and Pushkin Square, where the Young Guard, the youth branch of United Russia, was to gather for a City Hall-sanctioned rally at 11:30 a.m.

By 10:30, about 30 police trucks lined Tverskaya Ulitsa, from Mayakovskaya metro station to Pushkin Square and down to Manezh Square. One policeman, in civilian clothing and using an earpiece, approached an elderly woman. He ripped her bag away, and she fell to her knees. OMON riot police intervened to pull the policeman away, hearing her screams of "Let me go!" The policeman passed the woman later and shoved her.

Just before noon, about 20 riot police officers ran from Pushkin Square down Tverskaya, having gotten word that protesters were approaching. They returned minutes later with about 10 people, whom they loaded into a waiting truck along with a Moscow Times reporter who was trying to interview the detainees.

A group of six transvestites waved rainbow-colored gay pride flags as they posed for photographers near Pushkin Square. Four were eventually bundled into waiting vans.

A group of young protesters emerged on the roof of the Izvestia building overlooking Pushkin Square, hurling flyers into the air and drawing cheers of support from the crowd.

The support soon turned to jeers, however, as the youths, waving Young Guard flags, unfurled a banner reading: "Hello to the march of the political, hard-currency prostitutes" and heckled the marchers through a megaphone.

Finally, just after noon, hundreds of opposition activists -- their arms linked -- started marching down Tverskaya toward Turgenev Square, chanting "Russia without Putin!" and "Down with the KGB!" City Hall had allowed a gathering on the square.

One man carried a sign reading, "I don't believe in Putin." Some lit flares. Others had portraits of slain Novaya Gazeta journalist Anna Politkovskaya pinned to their jackets.

Police violently dispersed the marchers, hauling dozens, including Kasparov, into police trucks.

On Turgenev Square, more than 1,000 people gathered to hear former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and opposition leader Irina Khakamada criticize Putin.

"We have to unite because we are not willing to see the authorities trample our rights any longer," Kasyanov said on a platform surrounded by riot police.

"Return our elections, bastards, or we will force you to!" Khakamada said.

Some people resisted arrest as they were seemingly picked out at random around the square. "They are taking people and beating them, they kicked a girl in the kidneys," said retired French translator Lyubov Ivanova, 63, a supporter of Kasparov.

A photographer was left with a bloodied head as police blocked off Rozhdestvensky Bulvar. Bloodied tissues could be seen on the road.

After the Turgenev Square rally, organizers announced over a loudspeaker that they would protest outside the Presnenskaya police station, where Kasparov was being held.

There, about 300 people, including independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov and Oksana Chelysheva, a member of the Russian-Chechen Friendship Society, chanted "Freedom for Kasparov."

Soon police trucks brought in around 100 officers. Standing about 20 meters from the protesters, they huddled to discuss tactics. They then formed a circle around the protesters, and a few penetrated the crowd to grab the most vocal participants and carry them back to a police truck one by one. As they were doing so, protesters and onlookers shouted "Aren't you ashamed?" and "Disgrace! Disgrace!"

Police beat protesters with their nightsticks. One protester lay dazed on the ground clutching an ankle. As he tried to stand and put weight on the leg, he let out a loud yelp and fell back to the ground.

A woman from the safety of a second-floor balcony shouted, "You fascists!" -- drawing loud applause from the crowd.

An unidentified senior police official told Interfax that he was pleased with the professionalism that the officers displayed Saturday.

Averin, a co-organizer of the march, said it had set a benchmark for future demonstrations.

"More and more people will come," he said Sunday. "People will be ashamed not to turn up and show their hatred of Putin's Russia."

Averin said another Moscow march was being planned for June, but would not elaborate.

Other pro- and anti-Kremlin protests were held in downtown Moscow on Saturday.

The Young Guard gathering on Pushkin Square featured a giant screen that showed a simultaneous show of support for Putin at Vorobyovy Gory. More than 10,000 people were there. Police did not intervene in either rally.

Hundreds attended a nationalist rally on Bolotnaya Ploshchad to hear Dmitry Rogozin criticize "a Russia run by Abramoviches," in reference to Russia's richest man, Roman Abramovich. Hundreds of police near Bolotnaya Ploshchad stood by quietly.

"Moscow is for Russians," said Yury Ivanov, a bearded pensioner wearing a black eye-patch. "Only Russians have claim over Russian land."

Also Saturday, a few hundred people attended a Union of Right Forces rally calling for free and fair elections on Slavyanskaya Ploshchad.

"We don't want a revolution," party leader Nikita Belykh said, Interfax reported.

In a news bulletin Saturday, state-run Channel One television led with the Young Guard gathering. It said activists at the Dissenters' March consisted of a "few hundred ultra-radicals."

(The Moscow Times 16.iv.07)

 
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