Hundreds of protesters have been arrested by police in the center of Moscow Saturday, in a crackdown on opposition supporters demanding free and fair elections.
Thousands of Russians pledged to attend the protest in the capital Saturday, after Russian authorities banned a number of independent and opposition candidates from taking part in municipal elections in September.
Authorities stated that the candidates were barred from running because they had failed to obtain a sufficient number of signatures to be put on the ballot paper. Opposition politicians and supporters have rejected this allegation.
The decision has sparked a number of protests across Russia this month, including the largest demonstration in recent years last weekend, when 22,000 people took to the streets. Protesters threatened to hold an even larger demonstration Saturday, which was subsequently declared illegal by the authorities
undreds of riot police were witnessed preparing for the protests Saturday morning, and were later seen linking arms to form a line, pushing protesters away from Moscow’s City Hall.
OVD-info, a Russian democracy monitoring organization, said that at least 561 people have been detained thus far during the protests.
CNN witnessed clashes between protesters and police, with at least two protesters left with bloodied faces.
Moscow police said that 3,500 people took part in the protests, including 700 journalists and bloggers.
“A significant number of detainees are not residents of Moscow. All detainees are brought to the territorial police units for investigation,” the State Ministry of Internal Affairs in Moscow said in the statement.
A number of arrests and raids were also carried out on opposition candidates in the days and hours leading up to the protest.
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most outspoken opposition figure, was among those detained during the week, and was later sentenced to 30 days in prison for allegedly violating the country’s protest laws by calling for the demonstrations Saturday.
Navalny said on Instagram that he was detained as he left his apartment to go on a jog. “People are right when they say that sport is not always good for your health,” he quipped. “I have been detained and am now at a police station wearing shorts like a stupid man.”
Dmitry Gudkov, a fellow disqualified candidate, was also detained hours before Saturday’s protest. He had previously claimed that the country’s future was at stake due to the barring of opposition candidates.
“If we lose now, elections will cease to exist as a political instrument,” he said. “What we’re talking about is whether it’s legal to participate in politics today in Russia, we’re talking about the country we’re going to live in.”
Ilya Yashin, an ally of Navalny, reported on Facebook that he had also been detained hours before the demonstration following a raid on his house, and had been taken out of the Russian capital.
Other prominent activists to be detained include Kira Yarmysh, Navalyny’s spokeswoman, Lyubov Sobo and Ivan Zhdanov.
Moscow’s mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, warned on Twitter that police would react decisively to restore public order.
“According to information from law enforcement authorities, serious provocations are being prepared which pose a threat to the safety, lives and health of people,” he said. “Attempts at ultimatums, disorder will not lead to anything good. Order in the city will be maintained.”