Moscow, Jan 23 (AFP/APP): Police clashed violently with protesters in Moscow and arrested more than 2,200 demonstrators in cities across the country Saturday as Russians took to the streets to denounce Kremlin rule and demand the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Tens of thousands across Russia answered Navalny’s call to take to the streets issued after he was detained at a Moscow airport on arrival from Germany, where he had been recovering from a near-fatal poisoning with a nerve agent. Protesters spilled out over Pushkin Square in central Moscow and pelted heavily armed riot police with snowballs, but were detained in large numbers and beaten back by law enforcement wielding batons.
Critics of President Vladimir Putin marched towards the Kremlin before dispersing and at one point massed on the steps of Moscow’s circus, illuminating the crowds with hundreds of cell phone lights and pummelling a police van with snowballs. Later Saturday hundreds gathered outside Moscow’s high-security prison where Navalny is being held but were eventually pushed back by police. The demonstrators outside the Matrosskaya Tishina prison chanted “Freedom” and called on authorities to release Putin’s most vocal critic.
“Criminals dressed in uniforms are protecting criminals at the helm,” Vera Spivakova, a 71-year-old pensioner, told AFP in Moscow. “Putin and the oligarchs are afraid of losing their trough,” she said.
OVD Info, which monitors opposition rallies, said that more than 2,200 protesters were detained in dozens of cities across the country. Among more than 700 detained in the capital were Navalny’s wife Yulia Navalnaya — who was later released — and prominent activist Lyubov Sobol. Several Navalny associates were fined and jailed on the eve of the protest.
The European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell expressed concern over Russia’s response to the protests saying he deplored “widespread arrests” and the “disproportionate use of force”.
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