Russian police have detained hundreds of anti-corruption demonstrators after opposition figure and protest leader Alexei Navalny was arrested as he prepared to join a rally in central Moscow.
- Anti-corruption protests across Russia organised by Putin critic Alexei Navalny
- Riot police descended on Tverskaya Street, the location for Moscow protests
- Mr Navalny hopes to run in the 2018 presidential election
Several thousand protesters, including many young people, crowded in the capital at Mr Navalny’s behest chanting “Russia without Putin” and “Russia will be free”.
Mr Navalny, who is mounting a long-shot bid to unseat Vladimir Putin in a presidential election next year, had called for mass protests in Moscow and in cities from far east Pacific ports to St Petersburg against what he says is a corrupt system of rule overseen by the Russian President.
“Alexei was detained in the entrance hall of our building,” his wife Yulia tweeted.
“He asked me to tell you that the plans [for the protest] are unchanged.”
Alexei Navalny’s wife tweeted he was arrested about half an hour before the demonstration. (Twitter: Alexei Navalny)
Witnesses saw a police car leaving Mr Navalny’s apartment compound at high speed, followed a few minutes later by a minibus carrying around 10 police officers.
Electricity in his office was cut at around the same time as he was detained, briefly bringing down a live feed of nationwide protests, Mr Navalny’s spokeswoman said.
Around the venue for the planned protest, on Tverskaya Street in central Moscow, hundreds of riot police and military conscripts were waiting. Authorities have said the protest is illegal.
Riot police detained more than 100 protesters in Moscow, and more than 200 protesters were arrested at a rally in St Petersburg.
Riot police arrested protesters heading to the unsanctioned protest. (Reuters: Tatyana Makeyeva)
Police in Moscow donned gas masks and pepper spray was used on the crowd, although it was not immediately clear who sprayed the gas.
“We are against the corruption that is costing the future of our young people,” 33-year-old Maria Badyrova, one of the demonstrators in Moscow, said.
The scale of the protests will show if Mr Navalny can build on the success of a similar event in March, in which thousands took to the streets across Russia.
Those protests were the largest since a wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2012 and resulted in over 1,000 arrests.
The March protests put rare domestic pressure on Mr Putin, who is expected to run for and win re-election next year.
Authorities in Moscow had authorised a venue for the protest away from the city centre.
But late on Sunday, Mr Navalny said that authorities had pressured firms into refusing to supply him and his allies with sound and video equipment, a move he said was designed to humiliate protesters.
For that reason, he said he was unilaterally switching the venue to Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s main avenue near the Kremlin.
The General Prosecutor’s Office warned that a protest there would be illegal and police would be forced to take “all necessary measures” to prevent disorder.
A legal “caution” was being readied for Mr Navalny, it said.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told TV Rain, before Mr Navalny was detained, that it was vital to avoid what he called “provocations”.
Hundreds of riot police, Interior Ministry officials and military conscripts were waiting around the venue. (AP: Alexander Zemlianichenko)
The area of Tsverskaya Street near where Mr Navalny’s supporters were planning to hold their protest was hosting an officially organised historical festival, with actors re-enacting periods of Russian history with props such as World War II jeeps and artillery guns.
Officials had set up barriers along Tverskaya Street, and were admitting members of the public only once they had passed through airport-style metal detectors.
There were long queues of people waiting to gain access.
There was a heavy police presence on and around the avenue with bus loads of riot police parked nearby and side roads blocked off.
Navalny’s election hopes
Alexei Navalny, 41, called for the demonstration to highlight corruption in the Russian Government. (ABC News: David Sciasci)
For now, polls suggest Mr Navalny has scant chance of unseating Mr Putin, who enjoys high ratings. It is also unclear if the Kremlin will even let Mr Navalny run for the presidency.
But the 41-year-old lawyer turned political street campaigner hopes anger over corruption may boost his support.
A video he made accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, a Putin ally, of living far beyond his means has garnered over 22 million online views to date.
Mr Medvedev said the allegations were politically motivated “nonsense” and called him a charlatan.
Mr Navalny, who had a green liquid thrown in his face in April, robbing him of some of his sight, said hundreds of people had attended demonstrations in Russia’s Far East on Monday morning.
“I want changes,” Mr Navalny wrote in a blog post last week.
“I want to live in a modern democratic state and I want our taxes to be converted into roads, schools and hospitals, not into yachts, palaces and vineyards.”