In a day of anti-corruption protests across Russia, thousands of people crowded into Moscow's Pushkin Square on Sunday for an unsanctioned protest against the Russian government, part of a wave of demonstrations taking place throughout the country. For the Moscow demonstration, around 8,000 people took to the streets according to police. As the rally continued, police used loudspeakers to call on the protesters to disperse. A number of people were detained for disorderly conduct, among whom was the prominent leader of the anti-Putin opposition.
Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is leading the opposition to President Vladimir Putin, was arrested while walking from a nearby subway station to the demonstration, according to Associated Press journalists at the scene.
Navalny and his Foundation for Fighting Corruption had called for the protests, which attracted crowds of hundreds or thousands in most sizeable Russian cities, from the Far East port of Vladivostok to the European heartland. The protests were the largest coordinated outpourings of dissatisfaction in Russia since the massive 2011-12 demonstrations that followed a fraud-tainted parliamentary election.
There were no immediate figures on the demonstration size in Moscow, but the one-hectare Pushkin Square was densely crowded as were sidewalks on the adjacent Tverskaya Street, suggesting that more than 10,000 people had showed up. Law enforcement say that somebody sprayed “irritant gas” in the square, but rejected reports that it was part of a police action.
Scuffles with police erupted sporadically and some demonstrators were arrested, including a gray-haired man whom police dragged along the pavement. "It's scary, but if everyone is afraid, no one would come out onto the streets," said 19-year-old Yana Aksyonova, explaining why she attended.
According to AP, the protests Sunday focused on reports by Navalny's group claiming that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has amassed a collection of mansions, yachts and vineyards. The alleged luxuries include a house for raising ducks, so many placards in Sunday's protests showed mocking images of yellow duck toys.
"People are unhappy with the fact that there's been no investigation" of the corruption allegations, said Moscow protester Ivan Gronstein.
Protests, some sanctioned and others in violation of a municipal ban, also took place in other Russian cities on Sunday, including Novosibirsk, Barnaul, Tomsk, Krasnoyarsk, Khabarovsk, and Vladivostok.
In the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, police forcefully detained some demonstrators near the city's railway terminal, in one case falling down a small grassy slope as they wrestled with a detainee.
In St. Petersburg, an unsanctioned opposition rally was held just next to another unconnected gathering of demonstrators who rallied for traditional values. Police estimated the number of participants in the opposition event at around 3,000 in St. Petersburg, and said that three individuals were facing administrative action for minor violations.
The rally in Novosibirsk, which was sanctioned by the local authorities after a court ordered them to overturn a ban, attracted around 1,500 people, according to the mayor’s office. At another sanctioned event in Tomsk, around 400 protesters showed up, according to local law enforcement.
In Vladivostok, 25 activists have been detained by police for trying to violate a ban on public gatherings. Police released those detained shortly afterwards. The usual procedure for such cases of detention (which is not an actual 'arrest') is to identify the individuals for potential administrative action and then release them.
Some demonstrators showed up with their faces painted green, a reference to a recent attack on Navalny when an assailant threw a green antiseptic liquid onto his face.
It is unlikely that anti-Putin sentiment will sweep Russia, however. As recently as last Devember, the approval rating of the Russian President hit a near-record high reaching 86.8%. according to the Russian Center for Public Opinion Research (VTSIOM). The share of respondents who said that they trusted the president was at 62.1 percent, a slight rise from 61.3 percent a week ago, trending upwards from the 59.2 percent recorded in early December.
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