Russian protest leader Navalny detained at anti-Putin rally

Moscow (AFP) –


Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny was detained on Saturday at an unsanctioned rally in central Moscow, two days ahead of Vladimir Putin's inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term.

The 41-year-old protest leader was detained along with a number of his supporters as a huge crowd packed a central square in Moscow to protest Putin's swearing ceremony on Monday.

As police grabbed Navalny some supporters shouted "Shame" in Ukrainian, a famous slogan of the Kiev uprising that ousted a Kremlin-backed regime in 2014.

Scuffles broke out between Navalny's supporters and pro-Kremlin activists who also packed Moscow's Pushkin Square in an apparent effort to sabotage the opposition demonstration.

Police warned it would use force and "impact munition" to disperse the rally.

Protesters shouted "the fourth term -- in prison" and "sick of you," AFP correspondents reported.

In Russia's second city of Saint Petersburg, several thousand people turned up for another unsanctioned protest, chanting "Russia will be free" and "Down with the tsar".

Some carried placards reading "Another six years of degradation" and "For freedom of internet".

Earlier Saturday protesters took to the streets in towns and cities in Russia's Far East and Siberia, with dozens of them detained, Navalny's team and an independent monitor said.

Navalny, who was barred from challenging Putin in March's presidential election, had called on Russians to stage a day of rallies ahead of Putin's swearing-in ceremony.