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AFP - Police Sunday seized hundreds of protesters who rallied in Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok against the government's decision to raise tariffs on used foreign cars, as well as reporters who covered the event, witnesses told AFP.
Up to 1,000 car lovers gathered in Vladivostok's central square as part of the ongoing wave of protests against the move when regular and anti-riot police moved in, photographer of the ITAR-TASS news agency Vladimir Sayapin told AFP.
"People behaved themselves very peacefully. It is very cold today, so people would dance around the Christmas tree," Sayapin said, adding that as soon as protesters attempted to unfurl slogans, they were seized by police.
Several dozen reporters who covered the event were also seized, including teams from Russian and Japanese television stations, Sayapin said.
"They beat us all -- those who resisted and those who did not. In the buses the floor was sprinkled with blood," he added.
"When the event started, police gathered all reporters in one place, telling us to stay there and work from there. When police moved in, they surrounded us all at once and pushed us to the ground," another reporter, Gennady Shishkin, recalled.
"They loaded us into buses like so much firewood. Many had their cameras broken and arms twisted," Shishkin told AFP.
This was the fifth protest rally since the government earlier this month announced its decision to raise import tariffs on used foreign cars in a bid to help Russian automakers.
According to experts, over 200,000 people in Russia's far eastern region of Primorye are involved in foreign car sales, which take up 60 percent of all small business in the region.
Protesters also defended the right of Russian drivers to buy cars with Japanese-style right-hand steering wheels, which are popular in Vladivostok, a Pacific port city much closer to Tokyo than Moscow.
Mass civil actions in support of automobile owners' rights regularly draw thousands of supporters in Russia, while pro-democracy protests by the country's liberal opposition are typically much smaller.