Riot police arrested scores of people in downtown Moscow on Monday at a rally to protest the election of Vladimir Putin as president at polls marred by allegations of vote fraud.
“You are violating the laws of the Russian Federation!” opposition parliamentary deputy Ilya Ponomaryov shouted at police as they moved in to remove protesters. “We can see your faces! Stop immediately!”
“The police with the people!” chanted demonstrators as officers encircled them in the snow.
Famous blogger and opposition figurehead Alexei Navalny was among those detained.
The trouble was the first to have marred a series of what had until Monday been peaceful anti-government demonstrations.
The protest rally came less than 24 hours after a landslide election victory for Vladimir Putin had secured him a third presidential term. Putin was forced to step down as president by the Constitution in 2008, after serving two consecutive terms.
However, protest organizers said the elections saw widespread violations. International observers also criticized the polls. But Russia’s election chief, Vladimir Churov, said the polls were the “most honest, open and transparent” in the world.
“Putin is a thief!” chanted a crowd of what police said was around 14,000 as the rally began at Pushkin Square, named after Russia’s national poet. Organizers gave a figure of 20,000.
“The elections were a farce,” said Alexei Voronin, a student. “We need a leader who is ready for dialogue, not one who acts as if he a tsar.”
Opposition activists had pledged to encircle the Kremlin after the rally, but police moved quickly to crack down, stopping protesters from heading toward Russia’s seat of power.
And when some 2,000 people, including Navalny, Ponomaryov, and opposition Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov refused to leave the square after the end of the rally, police acted fast.
“There have been hundreds of arrests. I’ve been detained as well,” Udaltsov told RIA Novosti by telephone from a police truck.
“This is another challenge to society,” he added. “More people will come to the next protest.”
Ponomaryov told the Gazeta.ru online newspaper that some 1,000 people had been detained, including dozens who tried to block the main Tverskaya Street, which leads to the Kremlin.
Protest leaders have called for another demonstration in downtown Moscow on Saturday.
Attendance at Monday’s rally was drastically down from numbers at previous protests in December and February. Those three rallies, which were held in response to allegations of vote fraud, attracted an estimated total of some 200,000.
Around 100 people were also arrested at a separate rally in Moscow on Monday, when activists of the radical opposition group The Other Russia demonstrated near the office of the Central Elections Commission.
Novelist-turned-politician Eduard Limonov, who heads The Other Russia, was among those detained, the group’s spokesman said.
Three reporters, including RIA Novosti's Andrei Stenin and Moskovskie Novosti's Pavel Nikulin were also briefly held at the Other Russia rally. Nikulin was beaten by police, the agitprop art group Voina said on Twitter.