Woman kicked by Russian policeman becomes protest symbol, seeks justice

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian woman who has become a symbol of the heavy-handed way the authorities cracked down on anti-Kremlin protesters at the weekend after being kicked to the floor by a baton-wielding policeman says she wants justice.

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Margarita Yudina, 54, was among tens of thousands of people across Russia who protested against the jailing of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny on Saturday. Police had said the protests were illegal and detained nearly 4,000 people, according to the OVD-Info protest monitoring group.

The way Yudina was treated at the protests in St Petersburg has become a national scandal after the moment the policeman kicked her in the stomach for asking why he and his colleagues had detained a man was caught on camera and went viral online.

In the video, Yudina is seen falling back on the pavement after being kicked, banging her head hard. Hospital documents show she suffered concussion and needed stitches to the back of her head.

She says she was taken to intensive care before being moved to a regular hospital ward where she was visited by a police officer who brought her flowers and apologised.

Yudina says she told the man, who was shown on national television saying he had been sprayed with pepper gas before the incident and that his visor had steamed up meaning he couldn’t see clearly, not to worry because she wanted to be left alone.

She later complained though that she had not learned the officer’s full name and that no one from the police had come to take her testimony.

In an interview with the Novaya Gazeta newspaper published on Tuesday, she said she now wanted justice.

“This case needs to run its legal course,” she said.

“So I intend to appeal to the Investigative Committee and to find out who attacked me. I want the person who kicked me to be found, named and punished according to the law.”

Rights workers say a wave of criminal cases has already been opened against protesters over Saturday’s demonstrations, but that police are seldom held to account.

Navalny’s supporters plan to rally again this weekend to demand his release after he was put in pre-trial detention over parole violations he denies.

The Kremlin said on Tuesday that the violence on Saturday by some protesters was unprecedented and aggressive. Incidences of police violence were far fewer and being investigated, it said.

Reporting by Tom Balmforth; editing by Andrew Osborn and Alexandra Hudson