Russian riot police clash with vote protesters

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian riot police clashed on Monday with opposition protesters who tried to hold an unauthorised rally in Moscow against the election of President Vladimir Putin’s protege, Dmitry Medvedev.

More than 300 riot police, sometimes using batons, detained scores of activists and dragged protesters to police buses, Reuters reporters at the scene said.

Some of the protesters lit flares spreading scarlet smoke across the square in central Moscow, screaming “your election is a farce” and “Fascists! Fascists!”

“It is my duty to come down here and express my opposition after these pre-planned and falsified elections,” Yelizaveta, a protester in her 50s, told Reuters as riot police arrested people around her. “Now they are dragging us away one by one.”

The leaders of Russia’s small and splintered liberal opposition have called a series of rallies to protest against the election of Medvedev, who official figures show won just over 70 percent of the vote.

Opposition leader Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who attended a separate rally in the northern city of St Petersburg, said 250 people had been detained in Moscow. A spokesman for Moscow’s police declined to comment.

Western observers have criticized Sunday’s election as not fully democratic but Putin said the vote was held in strict accordance with the constitution.

Slideshow ( 9 images )

Independent opposition candidates were either barred from running or refused to take part in protest.


“We need to ensure that this regime is recognized as illegitimate,” said Kasparov, who in December dropped his bid to run in the presidential election, saying obstruction by the authorities made it pointless.

“The authorities have stopped paying any attention even to the formalities of democracy,” he said, adding that the opposition would call an assembly of opposition parties before Medvedev’s May 7 inauguration as president.

Police at the Moscow rally detained Nikita Belykh, leader of the small free-market Union of Right Forces party, and Lev Ponomaryov, a prominent human rights activist.

“Yesterday they were shouting Heil Putin ... on Red Square to celebrate their victory,” Alla Petrova, a pensioner who was wrapped up warmly against the driving snow, told Reuters. “Today they are beating innocent people. Shame on them.”

Slideshow ( 9 images )

In St Petersburg, about 2,000 activists chanted “Revolution, Revolution” and “Russia without Putin”.

The meeting had official permission, but Maxim Reznik, head of the Yabloko opposition party in St Petersburg, was detained late on Sunday, opposition worker Olga Kurnosova said.

“He was accused of not obeying police orders. He called me this morning and said his coat had been torn and his forehead bruised,” she told Reuters.

Police confirmed the detention, saying Reznik was detained after he had attacked another man -- a charge Kurnosova denied.

Additional reporting by Maria Golovnina in Moscow and Denis Pinchuk in St Petersburg; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Tim Pearce