By Steve Gutterman
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Anti-government protesters shouting "Russia without Putin!" tussled with police in Moscow on Saturday, and dozens of activists were detained and bundled into police vans.
Police detained about 75 people rallying in Moscow and St Petersburg against Vladimir Putin - who will return to the presidency in May after four years as prime minister - and demanding the freedom of assembly.
In Moscow, riot police in black helmets and body armor locked elbows and pushed a crowd of about 300 protesters and journalists along sidewalks and roadways near a central square.
Protesters chanted "Russia without Putin!" and "Freedom of Assembly: Always and Everywhere!"
Eduard Limonov, head of the banned opposition National Bolshevik Party, was shoved into the back of van as police bundled several other protesters roughly into buses.
One man threw a flare and was grabbed and carried off by his arms and legs. Sixty people were detained, state media said.
In St Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city and Putin's hometown, police detained about 15 of the 50 protesters who gathered off the main avenue, including local opposition leader Olga Kurnosova. A police helicopter buzzed overhead.
The freedom of assembly protests have been held for over two years and have been far smaller than a series of demonstrations prompted by suspicions of fraud in a December parliamentary election won by Putin's party, which drew tens of thousands.
Opposition leaders say the government violates Russians' constitutional right to free assembly by requiring permission from local authorities for street demonstrations. Police often disperse unsanctioned rallies and detain protesters.
At a smaller gathering in central Moscow earlier on Saturday, one of the organizers of the election protests, Sergei Udaltsov, discussed opposition plans for the coming weeks including a rally on the eve of Putin's May 7 inauguration.
(Editing by Maria Golovnina)