MOSCOW Dec 31 Russian police detained a
prominent opposition figure and several other people holding
unauthorised protests in Moscow and St Petersburg on Monday to
defend the right to assembly.
Police grabbed Eduard Limonov, a leader of the Other Russia
opposition movement, as he spoke to journalists shortly after
arriving with a few dozen activists in Moscow's Triumph Square.
Under a brisk snowfall, demonstrators chanted "Russia
without Putin!" and slogans calling for the right to free
assembly, as Muscovites shopped for the New Year holiday in the
capital's main street nearby.
Witnesses saw several other people detained by the heavy
contingent of riot police and regular officers. Opposition
activists said at least 28 people were detained. Police could
not immediately be reached for comment.
About 10 protesters were detained on the main thoroughfare
in St Petersburg, Nevsky Prospekt, Ekho Moskvy radio reported.
For several years, a movement called Strategy 31 has called
protests on the last day of every month that has 31 days to draw
attention to what opponents of President Vladimir Putin say is
Kremlin suppression of the right to free assembly.
Freedom of assembly is guaranteed in Article 31 of Russia's
constitution, but activists say the government restricts that
right by requiring organisers to get official permission, which
is frequently denied.
A law passed in 2012 increased fines for organisers and
protesters deemed to have violated the rules, part of what
Putin's critics say is a crackdown on dissent accompanying his
return to the presidency for a six-year term in May.
The Strategy 31 protests are separate from the opposition
protests that followed Putin's party's win in December 2011
parliamentary elections which critics said was marred by fraud
and which brought tens of thousands of people into the streets.
Putin called for unity in a traditional New Year address,
televised across Russia just before midnight, saying it was
needed if Russia is to be strong and successful, but made no
mention of his political opponents.