Russian protesters arrested in Moscow rally

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 31, 2011 1:53 PM
Russian protesters arrested in Moscow rally

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police detained about 60 protesters during an anti-government demonstration on Saturday in Moscow, hours after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin offered a conciliatory message to the opposition in a televised New Year's Eve address.

Reuters witnesses said they saw police surround and detain protesters who were shouting slogans such as "Putin Must Go!" and "Free the Political Prisoners!."

Police said about 200 people took part in the rally, with 60 detained. Gathering in near-freezing temperatures at a major thoroughfare in the capital, many protesters wore the white ribbon that has become a symbol of the protests.

Putin has faced massive demonstrations following a December 4 parliamentary election that protesters and international observers said was marked by fraud and violations. Despite the mounting pressure, Putin is expected to comfortably win a presidential election in March and return to the Kremlin.

"Of course, I want to wish all of our citizens, independent of their political leanings - those who sympathize with the forces of the left, and those on the right, those on top and those below, as you like - I want to wish everyone happiness and prosperity," he said in his address.

He made a passing nod to political tensions but said they were "the inevitable cost of democracy," especially in election time.

"At such times, politicians always try to manipulate the voters' feelings, everything is a little shaken up and seething, but that is the inevitable cost of democracy. There's nothing unusual here," he said.

Saturday's protest took place at Moscow's Triumfalnaya Square, a traditional rallying point for the opposition that also served as the birthplace of the demonstrations that have swept Russia this month.

Police and other law enforcement officers were deployed in the area well before the protest began at 5 p.m., their buses and vans lining the streets surrounding the square.

The protest was organised by the "Strategy 31" movement, which since 2009 has staged rallies to mark the right to peaceful assembly guaranteed in Article 31 of the constitution. They gather on the final day of every month with 31 days.

"Strategy 31" rallies do not enjoy official approval, and participants are subject to arrest. Among those detained on Saturday was National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov, Russian media reported.

Tens of thousands have taken to the streets this month in the biggest opposition demonstrations since Putin rose to power in 1999. The last massive rally was held on December 24. in central Moscow.

On Saturday, a separate protest attracted about 100 people in St. Petersburg, with city police reporting about 10 arrests.

Russia's Echo Moskvy radio also reported that about 200 people, including Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov, participated in a rally in the Volga River city of Nizhny Novgorod that went off without incident.

(Writing by Alfred Kueppers; additional reporting by Mikhail Voskresensky in Moscow and Liza Dobkina in St. Petersburg; Editing by Alessandra Rizzo)