ROAR: Police force opposition activists to attend protest - reports

As dissenters held their first authorized rally on Moscow’s Triumfalnaya Square, the split between moderate and radical activists increased.

Several people were detained during Sunday’s action, according to the media. A simultaneous unauthorized rally was held near the sanctioned event because of a rift between the organizers over the number of protesters the city authorities had agreed could take part.

Opposition groups and human rights activists gather on the last day of each month that has 31 days, symbolizing their support for Article 31 of the Constitution that guarantees freedom of assembly.

In Moscow, the event had been sanctioned for the first time with the city authorities agreeing to allow 800 at the rally. However, according to different estimates, up to 3,000 people gathered on Triumfalnaya Square in the city centre.

Police detained several people for attempts “to foil” the authorized rally by using fireworks, the spokesman for Moscow police Viktor Biryukov told Interfax news agency.

Some of the organizers of the protest, including the head of the Moscow Helsinki Group Lyudmila Alekseeva, “on the whole were satisfied” with the rally, Ekho Moskvy radio said. The next action on the square will be planned for December 31.

Eduard Limonov, leader of the Other Russia movement and the Strategy 31 initiative, wanted the authorities to allow more than 800 people to take part. He led his supporters to near the main rally, but police “forced him to join the authorized event,” media said. “For the first time in history a man who had sought permission for a rally, had to be carried to that rally,” Biryukov told Kommersant daily.

“Some dissenters did not appreciate” police forcing Limonov to go to the authorized event, the paper said. “They blocked the Garden Ring and marched toward the building of the government.” Twenty were detained, the daily reported.

Limonov and his followers insisted that 1,500 people should have able to take part in the rally.

However one of the co-organizers, Lyudmila Alekseeva, described the authorities decision to allow 800 activists to gather on the square “as a victory and called on her supporters to attend the authorized meeting,” the daily said.

The rally had “an unusual status from the common sense point of view as it was simultaneously authorized and unauthorized,” Moskovsky Komsomolets daily noted. “Some liked the event while others were shocked by it.”

Opposition and human rights activists have in the past held several unauthorized rallies – only to be dispersed by police. This time, those who cried slogans and waved posters away from the main event “were simply surrounded and resolutely squeezed toward the authorized action,” the daily added.

Observers are wondering how the split among the co-organizers of the rally on Truiumfalnaya may affect future protests. According to politicians and analysts, by her work to agree the Sunday event with the authorities, Alekseeva “managed to achieve much more than the uncompromising Limonov,” Nezavisimaya Gazeta daily said.

“The fact that the Mayor’s Office permitted the rally and increased the number of people who could attend it [to 800], shows that the positions of the two sides are getting closer,” said Boris Nadezhdin, a member of the Right Cause party’s political council.

It has become clear for some dissenters that holding unauthorized rallies is senseless, as they usually result in either a ban or dispersal, believes Maksim Grigoriev, director of Democracy Problems Research Foundation.

However, the attention being paid to some of the opposition groups is “absolutely undeserved and disproportional,” the analyst told the paper. “The number of people who support them and are ready to take part in their actions is extremely small,” he added.

Alekseeva expressed hope that such rallies would be permitted in the future. “The majority of those gathered behaved in a proper way,” she told Kommersant, adding that the authorities “are tired of the confrontation.”

In St. Petersburg though, not much has changed for opposition groups attending unauthorized rallies. On October 31, police detained 113 people during two opposition rallies, on Nevsky Prospekt and Palace Square. About 170 people attended the demonstrations, Interfax said, citing police sources.

Sergey Borisov, Russian Opinion and Analysis Review, RT