November 24, 2007 / 12:25 PM / 12 years ago

Russian police block anti-Putin march

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police detained opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov on Saturday when they broke up an anti-Kremlin protest eight days before Russia’s parliamentary election.

Chess grandmaster and opposition leader Garry Kasparov (C) pushes through the crowd before being detained by the police during an opposition rally in central Moscow November 24, 2007. Russia's police detained Kasparov and several other anti-Kremlin protesters on Saturday as they demonstrated against President Vladimir Putin. REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Scuffles broke out between police and protesters in central Moscow after around 3,000 people tried to march to the central election commission’s headquarters.

“No election. For Russia. Against Putin,” shouted the protesters, organized by the opposition Other Russia group, which accuses Russian President Vladimir Putin of destroying personal liberties and the freedom of the press.

The umbrella group, which unites Kremlin opponents from liberal free market thinkers to anarchists, also says a parliamentary election scheduled for December 2 is unfairly weighted towards pro-Putin party United Russia.

Police have cracked down on Other Russia marches this year, hitting protesters with batons and detaining hundreds, but they recently adopted a softer approach. On Saturday they kept their distance until a squad of riot police blocked the march.

Plain clothes police roughly pushed and pulled people into vans and police armed with batons grabbed protest leaders.

Kasparov, a leader of Other Russia, was charged with public order offences and police said they would hold him for five days, said his spokeswoman.

Police detained about 60 protesters, a Kasparov spokesman said. Police declined to comment.

After police broke up the march, protesters moved away in small groups and said they had expected the authorities to block the demonstration.

“In a free country you can express your opinions but in Russia you can’t,” said Alexei Alexeyev, a 26-year-old protester. “The police are very aggressive and I fear them,” he said, explaining that police had detained him for 12 hours at an opposition protest in March.

Putin, who is hugely popular in Russia, will step down as Russian president next year after his second and final consecutive term but has said he will continue to play a role in Russian politics.

Young and old mingled at the protest, uniting the elderly who had lived in Soviet times with young students.

Tatiana Manukova, 61, had wrapped up in woolly hat and thick coat to ward off the chilly Moscow air.

“Censorship is all around us and our freedoms have decreased,” she said. “Putin’s way will not mean a better future.”

Writing by James Kilner and Tanya Mosolova; Editing by Charles Dick

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