Moscow (AFP) – Russian police on Saturday detained several dozen supporters of opposition leader Alexei Navalny as nationwide protests kicked off on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a fourth Kremlin term.
Navalny, who was barred from challenging Putin in the March presidential election, had called on Russians to stage a day of rallies across the country ahead of Putin’s inauguration.
Protests kicked off in Russia’s Far East and Siberia regions, with several dozen demonstrators detained by police, Navalny’s team and independent monitors said.
In the Siberian city of Krasnoyarsk 15 people including a journalist were detained, said OVD-Info, an independent monitoring group.
“Detentions were conducted in a rough manner,” the monitor said, adding that some of the detained had scratches and bruises.
In the Urals city of Chelyabinsk police detained three people before the start of a protest, activist Boris Zolotaryovsky wrote on Facebook.
At least ten protesters were detained in the Siberian city of Barnaul, Navalny’s team said.
In Moscow and Saint Petersburg — where the rallies were to begin at 1100 GMT — authorities have not granted permission for the demonstrations to go ahead.
A number of Navalny’s activists were also detained across Russia ahead of the protests on Friday.
“Craven old man Putin thinks he is a tsar,” Navalny said on Twitter ahead of the demonstrations. “But he is not our tsar.”
Observers have expressed fears that the protests could lead to clashes with police and mass arrests after similar rallies in 2012 led to a huge crackdown on the protest movement.
In May 2012, tens of thousands took to the streets to protest Putin’s inauguration for a third Kremlin term.
The rallies descended into clashes with police and hundreds of protesters were detained.
Criminal charges were brought against around 30 demonstrators and many of them were sentenced to prison terms of between 2.5-4.5 years.
Putin, who has ruled Russia for almost two decades, was re-elected for a fourth Kremlin term in March.
He recorded his best ever election performance with more than 76 percent of the vote.
Opposition and independent monitors reported ballot stuffing and other cases of alleged fraud as the Kremlin pushed for a high turnout.