Po­lice in Moscow Over­power Op­po­si­tion Rally

The Washington Post Sunday - - World News - By Peter Finn

MOSCOW, April 14 — For­mer world chess cham­pion Garry Kas­parov and at least 170 other anti-Krem­lin ac­tivists were de­tained Satur­day af­ter hun­dreds of riot po­lice sealed off Moscow’s Pushkin Square and clubbed some pro­test­ers to pre­vent a banned op­po­si­tion rally and march.

“They are seiz­ing peo­ple ev­ery­where, so that any group of peo­ple that looks even the least bit sus­pi­cious is im­me­di­ately ar­rested — not just blocked, but ar­rested, harshly,” Kas­parov said in a cell­phone in­ter­view with the ra­dio sta­tion Echo Moskvy af­ter the ar­rest, his first. He waved to sup­port­ers from a po­lice van be­fore he was driven off.

Po­lice later broke up a demon­stra­tion out­side the po­lice sta­tion where he was be­ing held. Pro­test­ers shout­ing “Free­dom for po­lit­i­cal pris­on­ers!” were kicked and clubbed by po­lice.

Kas­parov was re­leased late Satur­day.

At the square, lines of po­lice, in­clud­ing un­der­cover of­fi­cers point­ing out vo­cal demon­stra­tors, had quickly moved in on any­one who be­gan to chant slo­gans or tried to gal­va­nize peo­ple milling around the po­lice cor­don. Some el­derly women, car­ry­ing flow­ers and copies of the Rus­sian con­sti­tu­tion, were knocked down or hauled away. A num­ber of jour­nal­ists were ar­rested, but of­fi­cials said they were quickly re­leased.

Kas­parov is a leader of Other Rus­sia, an op­po­si­tion coali­tion that had called on sup­port­ers to as­sem­ble in Pushkin Square de­spite a de­ci­sion by city of­fi­cials to ban any gath­er­ing by the group at that lo­ca­tion.

“The au­thor­i­ties are afraid of us, they are ner­vous,” said for­mer prime min­is­ter Mikhail Kasyanov, who broke with Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin and is a leader of Other Rus­sia and a po­ten­tial pres­i­den­tial can­di­date. “Why can free peo­ple not walk? Why are they beaten?”

The coali­tion has held a se­ries of what it calls “dis­senters’ marches” in Rus­sian cities in re­cent weeks. All have been sup­pressed, some­times vi­o­lently, by masses of riot po­lice. An­other is planned for St. Petersburg on Sun­day.

Kas­parov and his sup­port­ers say they plan to con­tinue step­ping up their protests in the next 12 months in ad­vance of par­lia­men­tary and pres­i­den­tial elec­tions. They charge that Putin has squeezed the life out of Rus­sian democ­racy and plans to stage-man­age the elec­tions to pre­vent a free choice.

Lo­cal au­thor­i­ties stressed that they did pro­vide a per­mit for the group to hold a demon­stra­tion at an­other lo­ca­tion — sev­eral hun­dred peo­ple gath- ered there, and Kasyanov ad­dressed them. Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov said that by seek­ing to stage a march where it was not per­mit­ted, mem­bers of Other Rus­sia were look­ing for a con­fronta­tion with po­lice.

“We have sanc­tioned a large num­ber of events, both pro-gov­ern­ment and pro-pres­i­den­tial, and also anti-gov­ern­ment ones,” Luzhkov told jour­nal­ists Satur­day. “We live in a free and demo­cratic coun­try and al­low the ex­pres­sion of both agree­ment and dis­agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment.

“Pro­ces­sions are a prob­lem to us,” he con­tin­ued. “We have not al­lowed pro-pres­i­den­tial or­ga­ni­za­tions to hold them as well and sug­gested that they find a large place for a rally. We act sim­i­larly with anti-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions who want to ex­press their protest to the au­thor­i­ties.”

Of­fi­cials said 9,000 po­lice and In­te­rior Min­istry troops were de­ployed at dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions across the city.

The au­thor­i­ties ap­pear un­will­ing to al­low op­po­si­tion gath­er­ings ex­cept at lo­ca­tions where crowds can be con­tained eas­ily by large num­bers of po­lice. But at Pushkin Square on Satur­day, as ar­rests were tak­ing place, about 150 mem­bers of a pro-gov­ern­ment youth group ral­lied with of­fi­cial per- mis­sion inside the po­lice cor­don.

The Krem­lin, in par­tic­u­lar, ap­pears haunted by the me­mory of street demon­stra­tions in neigh­bor­ing Ge­or­gia and Ukraine, where crowds grew ex­po­nen­tially and even­tu­ally top­pled gov­ern­ments af­ter fraud­u­lent elec­tions.

“The au­thor­i­ties want to scare the op­po­si­tion,” said Alexei Makarkin, an an­a­lyst at the Cen­ter for Po­lit­i­cal Tech­nolo­gies in Moscow. “There are al­ways rad­i­cal ac­tivists who will go out on the street, but this show of force was psy­cho­log­i­cal pres­sure de­signed for those who want to go out but are un­sure and want to be safe.”

De­spite the at­ten­tion it re­ceives from the au­thor­i­ties, Kas­parov’s Other Rus­sia re­mains a mar­ginal group in a coun­try where the over­whelm­ing ma­jor­ity of the pop­u­la­tion ei­ther sup­ports Putin or is in­dif­fer­ent to pol­i­tics.

The op­po­si­tion it­self is di­vided. Some op­po­si­tion fig­ures, in­clud­ing lead­ers of the Yabloko and Union of Right Forces par­ties, have dis­tanced them­selves from Other Rus­sia be­cause of the pres­ence in it of rad­i­cals such as the Na­tional Bol­she­viks.

At the sanc­tioned rally Satur­day af­ter­noon, the po­lit­i­cal satirist Vik­tor Shen­derovich chided some of the young rad­i­cals in the crowd, telling them to ease up on the talk of revo­lu­tion. The au­thor­i­ties, he said, have “an in­fe­ri­or­ity com­plex.”

“Our job is to de­velop that com­plex,” he said.


An op­po­si­tion ac­tivist is car­ried away by riot po­lice in Moscow. “The au­thor­i­ties are afraid of us, they are ner­vous,” said for­mer prime min­is­ter Mikhail Kasyanov.

Chess cham­pion Garry Kas­parov was among those ar­rested.

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