Miriam Elder – Telegraph.co.uk December 6, 2011
Police and interior ministry troops have clashed with protesters in Moscow during a second day of protests against the rule of Vladimir Putin.
Around 600 protesters were reported to have gathered near Triumphal Square in central Moscow, but they included many pro-Kremlin youths in blue anoraks who had also turned up, chanting: “Russia, Putin!” while the opposition protesters shouted: “Freedom!” and “Russia without Putin!”
The crowd was held back by dozens of riot police and it appeared that opposition supporters were struggling to make it past police to the rally. At least 10 people had been detained as scuffles broke out.
Earlier, thousands of police and troops flooded the streets of Moscow before the planned protest. According to the Associated Press, hundreds of police blocked off Triumphal Square, then began chasing demonstrators, seizing some and throwing them violently into police vehicles.
The Interfax news agency reported that among the detained was Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal opposition.
The latest protests came a day after liberal opposition leaders held their largest ever demonstration, with up to 8,000 people calling for Putin’s removal. Riot police violently arrested 300 people in the wake of Monday’s protest. Courts began sentencing the arrested on Tuesday, including the opposition leader. Ilya Yashin, who was given 15 days for failing to follow police orders.
Alexey Navalny, a popular anti-corruption activist, also faced a 15-day sentence. He is seen as the de facto leader of a growing movement against Putin and United Russia, the ruling party.
The Kremlin appears to be taken aback by the public challenge to its rule and the widespread protests over allegations of voter fraud in Sunday’s parliamentary elections.
Among those deployed on Tuesday was the interior ministry’s Dzerzhinsky division, named after the notorious founder of the KGB, which focuses on suppressing mass protests.
Russian internet users uploaded pictures to their blogs and Twitter showing lorries loaded with water cannon lining the streets of Moscow.
“Because of permitted mass gatherings and to prevent possible attempts at unauthorised gatherings, the total number of mobile reserves has been increased, including interior troops,” a police spokesman told the Itar-Tass news agency.
The Kremlin organised counter-protests on Tuesday, with up to 15,000 activists from the youth group Nashi, and its subdivision, Stal, taking to the streets of central Moscow.
“We don’t want a revolution,” said one Stal activist, who only gave his name as Rauf and said he was brought to the capital from St Petersburg for the rally. “We believe in our future – the election was clean.”
Opposition protesters have seized on the results of a parliamentary election on Sunday, which saw United Russia’s support drop just below 50%. The vote has been marred by widespread allegations of violations and fraud.
Meeting United Russia members on Tuesday, Putin acknowledged the party’s loss of support and said it was “inevitable”. “They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country,” he said.
“In today’s conditions, the [election] result is good. We see and know what’s happening, and it seemed not long ago at all that in countries with a more stable economy and social sphere, millions of people go out into the streets,” he said.
Putin has in the past credited the party and government with preventing the sort of protests that gripped parts of the eurozone as the financial crisis worsened. He appeared to directly address the popular nickname that Navalny coined for United Russia – “the party of crooks and thieves”.
“They say that the party of power is a party linked with theft, with corruption,” Putin said. “If we remember the Soviet years – who was in power then? Everyone called them thieves and corrupted.”
The United Russia party was due to gather a protest in support of “clean elections” on Tuesday evening.
Members of the liberal Yabloko party, which failed to win any seats in Sunday’s vote, said they would join the anti-government protest later. Similar protests were organised around Russia on Tuesday.