Russian police crack down on anti-Putin conference

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The Independent Online

President Vladimir Putin's fiercest domestic critics and political challengers have defied the Kremlin and held an alternative G8 summit in Moscow, four days before the real thing.

The "anti-summit" was an attempt to persuade the West to get tough with the Russian leader. Speaker after speaker complained about the state of democracy and urged G8 leaders to stop treating Mr Putin as a democrat.

The event was marred by heavy-handed policing, with the venue, a hotel in central Moscow, flanked by 13 busloads of riot police including special forces and plain clothes FSB security service agents.

Four members of the anarchist National Bolshevik Party were handcuffed and bundled into a nearby car, a German photographer had his camera confiscated after filming the incident, and the British ambassador was heckled and insulted as he addressed the summit. The heckler shouted "Glory to the [Russian] empire!" before telling the ambassador, Tony Brenton, in colourful language to leave.

Igor Shuvalov, Mr Putin's G8 point man, had made it clear before the anti-summit that the Kremlin did not want "high officials" from foreign countries to attend, warning their participation would be viewed as "an unfriendly act". Two senior officials from the US State Department also ignored the warning to stay away.

Another protester tried to punch the former Russian prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who is a potential presidential contender for the opposition.

The former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, one of the anti-summit's main organisers, said the Kremlin was trying to frighten delegates. "They are trying to impose fear and to show nobody is protected, even in the conference venue," he said. "If you want to know what's going on, just go downstairs. The FSB has just arrested four of our people."

"We'll be addressing the leaders of the G7 [Kasparov rejects the G8 epithet, regarding Russia as an illegitimate member of the club] asking them to condemn this. If they stay silent they will be traitors to democracy."

The two-day anti-summit - billed as "The Other Russia" - foreshadows this weekend's G8 summit of world leaders in St Petersburg. It is the first time that Russia has chaired the G8 and some Western politicians believe its fledgling "managed" form of democracy should disqualify it from membership though the Kremlin contends it is making real progress on what it calls "sovereign democracy."

The anti-summit brought together some but not all of Russia's leading opposition figures. Soviet dissidents rubbed shoulders with human rights activists. The former Putin aide Andrei Illarionov and opposition journalists attended but the event was boycotted by the Communist Party, the liberal Yabloko party, and the SPS Union of Rightist forces who said they were unhappy that "nationalist and extremist' groups were represented at the summit.

Mr Kasparov, one of Mr Putin's most implacable opponents, said he believed the alternative summit was necessary to allow the opposition to develop common principles so it could become a viable force before parliamentary elections next year and a presidential election in 2008.

He complained the run-up to the anti-summit had been marred by violence and the arrest of about 40 opposition activists. Above all, he said, he wanted the leaders of the G8 publicly to hold Russia to account on democracy. "We have a statement for the G7," he said. "If they want to trade in democracy for Russian help on Iran or something else... it will be on President George Bush's conscience."

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