Some 100 arrested in opposition protests

At least 100 people have been arrested during protests in two Russian cities a day after former world chess champion Garry Kasparov launched a new opposition group, Solidarity, vowing to "dismantle" the regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.


AFP - At least 100 people were arrested Sunday at opposition protests in two major Russian cities organised by Kremlin critic and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, police and witnesses said.

Dozens were detained and forced into police buses at Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow, where Kasparov and other activists had planned to hold an unsanctioned "Dissenter's March," an AFP journalist said.

The arrests came a day after Kasparov and fellow government critics launched a new opposition group, Solidarity, and vowed to "dismantle" the regime of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Several hundred metres away on Pushkin Square an AFP photographer saw about 15 elderly people who said they were retired military officers being detained by police as they prepared to head for the march.

"Around 90 people were detained," police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told AFP, adding they may face administrative measures, a term that usually means fines.

The detained activists included writer Eduard Limonov, founder of the National Bolshevik Party, a banned radical group, his aide Alexander Averin told AFP by telephone from a bus where they were being held.

It was not immediately clear what happened to Kasparov.

A woman who answered Kasparov's telephone and identified herself as his mother said he had not been arrested but was "unavailable" to answer questions.

Hundreds of police filled the area around Triumfalnaya Square ahead of the planned demonstration, surrounding it with trucks and metal barriers.

Kasparov and his allies had vowed to hold the Dissenter's March there to protest what they view as Putin's undemocratic policies, despite not receiving police permission.

"It is useless to vote. Lies and corruption are everywhere," said Irma Kodan, a 69-year-old accountant who came to the square for the protest but was not among those arrested.

Ahead of the arrests, a spokesman for the Moscow police told the Interfax news agency that authorities would be "tough but lawful" in dealing with the unsanctioned protest.

The retired officers were detained as they prepared to head toward the Dissenter's March, an AFP photographer said.

Kasparov's website reported that they included retired general Alexei Fomin, head of a group called the Union of Soviet Officers, which had gathered to mark the anniversary of the Decembrist uprising of 1825, a revolt led by officers against Tsar Nicholas I.

About 10 people were detained at a parallel Dissenter's March held in Saint Petersburg, an AFP journalist witnessed.

Some 300 people gathered in the northern city to chant slogans including "No to the Amendments," referring to proposed constitutional amendments that would extend presidential terms from four years to six.

"What is happening in this country is a catastrophe," said Alexander, an engineer who attended the protest.

Launched Saturday, Kasparov's new opposition group includes a mix of political forces. While Kasparov declared he was optimistic about the movement, other members have been more cautious.

Sunday also saw a police-sanctioned protest of about 100 people in central Moscow organised by The Right Cause, a liberal party created last month with Kremlin approval after a merger of three other parties.

"I do not like the policies of our government, the policies directed against the people, the corruption," said Natalya Becheva, a 63-year-old retired engineering teacher at the Right Cause rally.

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