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Russian Riot Police Detain 100 At Economic Crisis Protest

Riot police face off against protesters in Vladivostok.
VLADIVOSTOK (Reuters) -- Russian riot police have detained at least 100 people protesting against government measures linked to the economic crisis, a crackdown that highlighted official sensitivity to growing hardship.

Riot police broke up an unsanctioned rally organized against import duties on new and used cars, kicked a protester as he was being held, and hurled a cameraman's gear to the ground.

Police used a bullhorn to order demonstrators to go home as they gathered near the city center, and the OMON riot police started snatching people after an uneasy 30-minute standoff.

Local media said 100 to 200 of the 500 participants were detained, but authorities declined to confirm this figure.

Further protests were due to take place across Russia against car import tariffs, which are being raised to prop up struggling domestic car producers and discourage Russians from buying second-hand vehicles.

They are particularly popular in Russia's Far East, which is a major importer of used Japanese cars, and political analysts say the protests are the first serious challenge by Russians to measures directly linked to the financial crisis.

The global economic crisis has battered Russian financial markets and oil, a chief source of foreign currency revenue, has plunged from $147 to under $40 per barrel in six months.

Protesters in the Pacific port city of Vladivostok, 6,000 kilometers east of Moscow, are urging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin to reverse the car import tariff hike, which they say will destroy livelihoods.

"For me, the car business is the only way to support my family," said car dealer Nikolai Kostalenko who took part in the protest.

Nikolai Markovtsev, a local parliamentarian with the pro-Kremlin A Just Russia party, said protesters were seeking to protect their jobs.

"The government has shown how it interacts with the people. They should talk to people, not twist their arms," he said.

The car duty is largely a defensive measure to protect Russia's domestic motor industry, which is largely based around the Volga region cities like Togliatti, home of the Soviet-era Lada cars, several time zones to the west.