Moscow police detain opposition leaders as election protests spread


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The Independent Online

The Kremlin yesterday struck back against rising popular discontent in the aftermath of parliamentary elections, arresting and jailing opposition leaders and sending thousands of flag-waving youths to disrupt attempts by disgruntled Muscovites to rally again.

Despite efforts to counter Monday's rallies with young people screaming their love for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, more than 250 protesters were manhandled into police vans and detained. The trigger for the two days of protests was Sunday's vote; Mr Putin's United Russia party polled just under 50 per cent, down from 64 per cent four years ago.

Opposition groups have said even this number is unfairly inflated, citing numerous electoral violations and widespread pressure on people to vote in the "correct" way.

On Monday night, about 8,000 people gathered and listened to speeches by opposition leaders, before a section of the crowd attempted to march on the Lubyanka, headquarters of the KGB's successors, the FSB, and the detentions began. Yesterday evening's protest was banned from the start, meaning riot police could arrest people simply for showing up. This apparently did not apply to the several thousand teenagers from the pro-Putin youth group Nashi. Mr Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have attempted to portray Sunday's result as a victory, but it is clear that the Kremlin has been unnerved by the level of protests. Mr Putin yesterday vaguely promised a "significant renewal" of government personnel next year.

Ilya Yashin, one of the organisers of Monday night's rally, was yesterday sentenced to 15 days in jail, as was the rising star of the Russian internet, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny.

"Of course we will continue protesting," Mr Yashin said after the verdict. He said the arrests could "arouse even more discontent among the people".