MOSCOW (AP) — Russians angered by the impending inauguration of Vladimir Putin to a new term as president demonstrated throughout the country on Saturday. Police arrested hundreds, including protest organizer Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is Putin’s most prominent foe.
Police seized Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from Moscow’s Pushkin Square, where thousands were gathered for an unauthorized protest.
Demonstrations under the slogan “He is not our czar” took place throughout the country, from Yakutsk in the far northeast to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad on the fringes of Europe.
OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political repression, said more than 350 people had been arrested nationwide, but that figure came before protests in the western reaches of Russia had ended. The Interfax news agency cited a police source as saying more than 140 people had been arrested just in Moscow alone, where the square was cleared after about two hours but demonstrators milled around nearby.
Navalny was to be charged with organizing an unauthorized meeting, Russian news agencies said, though when he would face a judge was not immediately clear. Navalny has served several multi-week stretches in jail on similar charges.
In St. Petersburg, police blocked off a stretch of Nevsky Prospekt as a crowd of about 1,000 marched along the renowned avenue. Video showed some demonstrators being detained.
Putin is to be inaugurated for a six-year term on Monday after winning re-election in March with 77 percent of the vote. Navalny had hoped to challenge him on the ballot but was blocked because of a felony conviction in a case that supporters regard as falsified in order to marginalize him.
Navalny has called nationwide demonstrations several times in the past year, whose turnout has rattled the Kremlin.
Saturday’s protests attracted crowds of hundreds in cities that are far remote from Moscow, challenging authorities’ contention that Navalny and other opposition figures appeal only to a small, largely urban elite.