RUSSIA - POLITICS

Dozens arrested in anti-Putin protests

Russian police arrested dozens of demonstrators protesting against the government of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev. Thousands of protesters in cities across the country faced off with pro-government supporters.

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AFP - Russia Saturday arrested a radical nationalist party head and at least two dozen others on a day of national protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's government amid a growing economic crisis.

Eduard Limonov, head of the banned National Bolshevik Party, was arrested when he was about to address an unauthorized protest meeting in central Moscow, an AFP correspondent reported.

Plain clothes officers and regular police rushed towards him with such force that he was pushed to the ground. He was arrested and taken into a waiting armoured truck.

"Apart from him, around 10-15 people were arrested at Trimumphalnaya Square in the centre of Moscow," Limonov's spokesman Alexander Averin told AFP.

The arrests come as the sidelined opposition called for Putin and the government to resign, in nationwide protests that were matched by often more numerous demonstrations by pro-Putin supporters.

A dozen more activists were arrested at another Moscow demonstration organised by supporters of former world chess champion turned Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov, an AFP correspondent reported.

Shouting "We need another Russia" and "Russia without Putin," around seventy people marched between metro stations in western Moscow. The arrested activists were taken into waiting police cars.

The Interfax news agency, citing a security source, said the leader of the opposition "We" youth movement, Roman Dobrokhotov, was also detained at a demonstration close to the government headquarters.

Earlier, around 5,000 people according to organisers and 8,000 according to police turned out for a pro-government demonstration just outside the Kremlin walls, shouting slogans in favour of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.

"The people! Medvedev! Putin! We will win together!" they chanted.

A demonstration organised by the Communist Party in the centre of the Far East city of Vladivostok attracted around 3,000 people after members of other political and social groups joined the action, an AFP correspondent reported.

Meanwhile, around 5,000 supporters of the ruling United Russia Party held a demonstration in support of the government in the city, shouting slogans in favour Putin, the organisers said.

However unlike a similar demonstration in Vladivostok last month, which was violently dispersed by riot police, the orderly anti-government demonstration passed peacefully and the numerous police present did not intervene.

"The crisis is in the heads of the authorities, not in the economy!" and "We need laws about the responsibility of the authorities to the people!" were among the slogans daubed onto banners.

In the northern city of Saint Petersburg, riot police arrived on the scene in three armoured vehicles and a bus ahead of a planned anti-government protest which was cancelled as a result.

A single protestor stood with a placard of anti-government demands, an AFP correspondent reported.

The interior ministry had already held a video-conference on Friday with police chiefs from around Russia to discuss preparations for the protests, Interfax reported.

"The actions of police personnel must adhere to principles in dealing with those who break Russian law, attempting to stage unsanctioned events and provocations," Deputy Interior Minister Mikhail Sudokholsky said.

In contrast to the sidelined opposition, Putin retains massive popularity in Russia, with 83 percent of the public approving of his work as prime minister, a poll by the Levada Institute showed last week.

While the opposition groups lack parliamentary representation or large-scale public support, they hope to benefit from the increasing severity of the economic crisis in Russia.

Indeed, the crisis has hit Russia hard, causing tens of thousands of jobs to be lost, delays in wage payments and a rapid devaluation of the ruble over the last six months.

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