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Protesters Gather On Moscow Square


Police officers force away opposition activists from their camp in the Chistye Prudy district in central of Moscow on May 16

Police officers force away opposition activists from their camp in the Chistye Prudy district in central of Moscow on May 16

Several hundred opposition activists have settled on Moscow's Kudrinskaya Square and were debating their next move as they continued to protest against elections that saw President Vladimir Putin's party win the majority of seats in parliament in December, then saw Putin reelected as president earlier this year.

Police moved in to disperse a group of the activists who were gathering in the area late on May 16. When police were attempting to detain two of the protesters, a crowd gathered around a police bus and damaged the vehicle. Police then detained some 30 people, including Ilya Yashin, leader of the opposition Solidarnost group.

Opposition activist Aleksei Sakyerto said police were rough when taking away some of the people on Kudrinskaya Square.

"I saw how they, how the riot police took people away, how people tried to fight back," Skayerto said. "It seemed to me to be pretty harsh. We saw a huge chunk of hair laying here right on the asphalt, but we didn't see anything else -- we just saw how they harshly took people away."

The number of opposition supporters grew to some 2,000 after the detentions were made and drew some prominent opposition leaders, including Gleb Pavlovsky, Olga Romanova, Ksenia Sobchak, and Ivan Starikov.

The Moscow police press service said the first detentions were made when police tried to investigate deliveries of food to the activists and an attempt to set up a field kitchen. The press service also said later one of the activists attacked a policeman.

All those detained except Yashin and Vadim Korovin were later released, according to the Russian newspaper "Novaya gazeta. The newspaper's website also posted video of scuffles between some protesters and police and angry members of the crowd yelling at police.

Police reportedly have removed a cordon they set up around the area, though a significant police presence remained. Police were also waking any of the protesters who were attempting to settle down on Kudrinskaya Square to sleep.

One protester who would give her name as Polina, said it was important to continue demonstrating against "unfair" elections.

"We can't let the authorities realize that we're tired and we want to go home and not do anything," Polina said. "We want to show that we will always come out -- every day -- while our demands are not heard and we don't get fair authority and fair elections, because if we stop coming here, then, as they say, the protest fades away."

Representatives of the opposition were in discussions with police and Moscow Deputy Mayor Aleksandr Gorbenko about continuing the protest. On the square, activists were reportedly debating whether to stay on Kudrinskaya Square until police moved to break up the protest or move to another location.

The Russian newspaper "Kommersant" quoted municipal representative Yelana Tkach as saying municipal representatives from the Presnensky district would meet later on May 17 to decide whether to give the action on Kudrinskaya Square official status as a "festival" paving the way for it to continue legally.

The gathering on Kudrinskaya Square is the latest chapter in an "unlimited" protest the opposition started after violent clashes between protesters and police on May 6, the day before Vladimir Putin was sworn in for a third term as Russia's president.

Opposition supporters "occupied" an area in the Chistye Prudy area, setting up an encampment where crowds reached into the thousands during the daytime. A Moscow court, acting on complaints from residents in the area, ordered the camp dismantled on May 15. Police moved to enforce the court order early on May 16, and many of the protesters at Chistye Prudy moved to the area they occupied late the same day.

With reporting from RFE/RL's Russian Service, ITAR-TASS and Interfax
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