* At least 500 protest at Kremlin-friendly TV office
* Two protest leaders detained within minutes of arrival
* Demonstrators chant "Russia without Putin"
By Thomas Grove
MOSCOW, March 18 Russian police detained more
than 100 people on Sunday, including leaders of the largest
protest movement against Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule, as
hundreds rallied against him weeks after his re-election to the
At least 500 protesters gathered near Moscow's largest
television tower at Ostankino to condemn what they said was the
Kremlin's domination of the media and to denounce a recent
documentary that portrayed them as floundering traitors.
"Putin's most important weapons are lies and propaganda and
they are just as effective at protecting him as police batons,"
said former deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, minutes before
riot police surrounded him and pushed him into a police van.
Protest leader Sergei Udaltsov, who is coordinator of
opposition group Left Front, was also detained minutes after
joining the demonstration. The rally had not been approved by
A wave of protests began in December over allegations of
fraud in an election that gave Putin's United Russia party a
small parliamentary majority. Putin's nearly 64 percent victory
in a separate presidential election in March has taken some of
the wind out of the protests, but they show no sign of stopping.
Demonstrators on Sunday chanted "Russia without Putin",
holding placards and white ribbons, which have become the symbol
of the protest.
The mostly young and middle-aged Russians booed riot police
as they dragged protesters from the crowd outside the
Kremlin-friendly television station NTV. Police quoted by
Interfax said more than 100 people had been detained.
Last week NTV, controlled by state-run gas giant Gazprom
, suggested the White House was funding the protests to
undermine Putin, and said demonstrators were given cash and
biscuits to take part.
Russian television is rarely critical of the Kremlin and is
seen by many Russians as Putin's mouthpiece.
On Sunday protesters laid flowers, packets of biscuits and
fake dollar bills outside the NTV studios at the Ostankino
"We're here to mourn the death of a free press in Russia,"
said Tanya Shahova, after laying red carnations at the office
"We were never given any money - or cookies," said her
sister Natasha, laughing. "It's all a provocation."
Several Reuters witnesses said around 500 had attended the
rally. Police declined to give an independent figure.
NTV was once a vibrant liberal news outlet before a midnight
raid on its offices after Putin took office in 2000. It is now
known for running smear campaigns against those who have fallen
foul of the Kremlin.
Putin has responded to the protests with limited political
reforms. He has also mocked the demonstrators in speeches,
calling them chattering monkeys and saying he mistook their
white ribbon for condoms.
The next large protest is expected to take place on May 6,
the day before Putin's inauguration, when opposition leaders
plan to march toward the centre of Moscow.
Putin's new term will extend his rule up until 2018 at which
point he would be eligible to try to secure a new six-year term.
Two protest rallies brought hundreds of demonstrators into
central Moscow on Saturday. More than 20 were detained.
(Reporting By Thomas Grove; Editing by Andrew Heavens)