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6 May, 2012 06:01

Hundreds detained as protesters clash with Moscow police (VIDEO)

Demonstrators have clashed with police at a rally organized by the opposition on Bolotnaya Square after several dozen protesters, including opposition leaders, broke away from the crowd to stage a sit-down strike.

Scores of demonstrators joined the group, creating a disturbance in the process. Then, instead of proceeding to the sanctioned venue, some demonstrators gathered on a nearby bridge. One group of protesters attempted to break through and head towards the Kremlin. A few dozen demonstrators did manage to get through police lines, but the cordon was soon restored.As the mood of the crowd grew more aggressive, some protesters began throwing stones and other missiles at police. Clashes between security forces and the more radical demonstrators then erupted in several locations near Bolotnaya Square.While police used batons to contain the crowd, a police spokesperson stressed that security forces had not used tear-gas at the rally, although some demonstrators in the crowd had had pepper-spray.“What police had in their hands were fire extinguishers, which they used once to douse a fire when provocateurs began setting fires,” she said.There has also been a report of a Molotov cocktail being thrown by someone in the crowd. Burning liquid splashed on a demonstrator, starting a fire, which was immediately doused.Shortly afterwards, police detained prominent opposition figures Sergey Udaltsov, Boris Nemtsov and Aleksey Navalny as they tried to address demonstrators. They were arrested for “provocation,” a police spokesman told Interfax.The three have been charged with insubordination to authorities, a charge which carries a penalty of up to 15 days’ detention.More than 400 people have been arrested for illegal actions in and around Bolotnaya Square, say police.Twenty police officers were injured over the course of the demonstration, of whom three were taken to hospital.Medical officials also say seventeen demonstrators asked for medical assistance. There was one accidental death during the rally when a photographer fell off a balcony while trying to take a long shot of the demonstration. The man died instantly.The rally was shut down by police due to violations of rally regulations.Security forces organized a special corridor through which people were able to leave Bolotnaya Square. Police also addressed the crowd, urging demonstrators to leave.Provocations from some oppositionists as well as police errors were the main reasons behind the clashes and arrests on Bolotnaya, said Russia’s Human Rights Ombudsman, Vladimir Lukin.He said that the responsibility for the situation lay with those who began the sit-down strike, adding that it was nothing other than “provocation.”Whichever radical activists triggered the violence, they apparently were prepared in advance. Despite police screening, they managed to smuggle flares, knifes, metal rods and other objects which they used to attack police.In one incident before the clashes erupted, two people were detained while trying to smuggle tents and several military-grade smoke bombs in a trash can.The unrest during the opposition rally on Sunday is in stark contrast to previous opposition rallies in Moscow, which until now have been completely peaceful. The rallies started taking place in December after the parliamentary elections.

The route of the march was initially intended to have been the same as the February 4 protest – from Kaluzhskaya Square down Yakimanka Street to Bolotnaya Square. The Left Front political movement and their allies, who are behind the rally, believe that both the parliamentary and presidential elections, which took place in Russia recently, were rigged.They demand greater liberalization of the electoral laws compared to the reform taken by the government in response to the rise of the opposition moods. They also want a new parliamentary election before 2013 and new presidential ballot in spring 2013.A separate opposition group wanted to hold a rally in Manezhnaya (Manege) Square in Moscow’s center, but failed to receive a sanction from the authorities. The site in unavailable for public gatherings at present, because preparations are underway for an upcoming military parade on Victory Day. Police warned they would disperse any crowd trying to assemble there.Other Russian cities are also gathering for protest events on Sunday as part of the 'March of the Millions' campaign.

Popular Front anniversary

Meanwhile the pro-Putin movement Popular Front has also held a demonstration on Sunday to mark its own anniversary and voice their support for the president-elect.Up to 30,000 people have gathered at Poklonnaya Hill, Moscow police says. The Popular Front’s leadership assured that their action was not aimed against the opposition events.The movement was formed in March 2011 prior to the parliamentary election. The idea was to gather pro-governmental forces, which are not directly interested in politics, under a single banner.