More than 300 protesters were detained at a political opposition rally in central Moscow on Saturday, an independent monitoring group told dpa.
The actual number ‘may be significantly higher,’ monitoring coordinator Grigory Durnovo of the group OVD-Info said by phone.
The protest was the third in as many weeks as opposition supporters have been enraged that several of their candidates were rejected from the ballot for city council elections due to be held next month.
A medical student, 19, explained as police cordoned off a main square in the protest area that she did not directly support the opposition candidates.
‘I'm simply for the right for any candidate to be allowed,’ Tanya, who agreed to speak on condition of anonymity, told dpa.
A pensioner, Sergei Pavlov, 66, expressed a similar sentiment, saying his support was broadly for the opposition. ‘It's obligatory for their to be a political opposition,’ he said. ‘There need to be different people.’ More than 6,000 people said they planned to attend Saturday's protest, according to the event page on Facebook. Authorities warned that the unsanctioned rally would be a ‘direct violation of the law.’ Authorities said in the mid-afternoon Saturday that only about 350 people attended the protest, with about 30 detained, state media reported.
Last Saturday about a third of the estimated 3,500 participants were detained, according to official data. It was the largest number of detentions at a Russian rally in the past decade, OVD-Info told dpa.
The monitoring group, whose acronym roughly translates as ‘police department,’ bases its information on text messages and calls from detainees and offers them legal assistance.
The group wants to make sure that police cannot ‘hide information about these people being detained,’ Durnovo said.
Numerous protesters have been violently detained, with police tackling and dragging away demonstrators in attempts to disperse the crowds.
Police will ‘take all necessary measures to stop provocations, riots and any actions entailing a violation of public security,’ the Moscow prosecutor's office warned ahead of Saturday's rally.
A 21-year-old Muscovite planning to attend the rally said she did not fear the looming crackdown. ‘Outrage outweighs the fear at this point,’ she told dpa.
These protests are for two things: to pressure the authorities and show them that the ‘opposition is not a marginal group. A lot of people are outraged,’ said Anastasia, a linguistics student.
‘The opposition does not expect Russia to become a fair democratic state all at once,’ she said.
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin described police actions at last weekend's rally as ‘completely adequate.’ He accused the protesters of having driven the police to use force against them.
Germany's minister of state for Europe, Michael Roth, condemned the ‘brutal violence against peaceful protesters in Moscow’ as an ‘attack on democracy and rule of law,’ according to a statement on Twitter.
Members of a group of parliamentarians responsible for German-Russian relations in the Bundestag also expressed their concern in a letter to Russian parliamentary leader Vyacheslav Volodin, which was seen by dpa on Saturday.
Five vice chairs of the group said it was a staple of free elections ‘that everyone can become a candidate, as long as they fulfil the requirements.’ They added that they had ‘doubts that the reasons for the election commission in Moscow disallowing the candidates would be able to stand up to a free and fair examination of each and every case.’ The letter was signed by Doris Barnett, Ingo Gaedechens, Gregor Gysi, Michael Georg Link and Juergen Trittin.
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