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Lavrov shrugs off criticism over opposition marches

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Russia's foreign minister said riot police did not abuse their power while dispersing opposition marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg at the weekend.
WASHINGTON, November 27 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's foreign minister said riot police did not abuse their power while dispersing opposition marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg at the weekend.

Police, who arrested several opposition leaders and supporters, broke up sanctioned demonstrations at the weekend after demonstration participants moved into central streets, blocking traffic. The police actions have drawn criticism from the West.

"Freedom of expression and convention is regulated by legislation, and above all the city authorities," Sergei Lavrov said. "When you explain to organizers that this can only be done in places where it would not interfere with the city life, it should be adhered to."

A Moscow City Court spokeswoman, Anna Usachyova, said Monday the police had been called to action because the demonstrators began to march, instead of gathering in the sanctioned place.

The U.S. government, President of the European Commission Jose Manuel Barroso and French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner have expressed grave concerns over the detention of demonstration participants.

Russia's First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin said Tuesday the March of Dissent held in St. Petersburg on Saturday was financed with foreign money. "It is obvious that it was all organized with foreign money," he said.

Chekalin also said the organizers of the opposition marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg had provoked confrontation with police.

"Even if the city authorities had allowed them to demonstrate where they wanted to..., the organizers would have rejected the offer and held the meeting in an unsanctioned place," he said.

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