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Russian Officials Set Police-Driving Contest For Same Day As Moscow Protest

Police van drivers will be tested on "maneuvering and avoiding obstacles in city conditions." (file photo)

Russia's Federal Penitentiary Service (FSIN) has announced a competition among drivers of police vans that it says will take place in Moscow on August 10, around the time of an authorized rally planned by opposition politicians and activists.

Officials had already announced earlier this week at least one other city-sponsored event to coincide with the rally, the third major opposition gathering in the capital since local officials decided in early July to bar dozens of independent candidates from elections to the Moscow City Duma in September.

Thousands were detained during forcible dispersal of protests in Moscow each of the past two Saturdays, and images of police pummeling peaceful demonstrators with batons sparked outrage among rights groups and condemnations from Western governments.

TASS news agency quoted FSIN officials as saying that drivers of police vans -- or avtozaks, as they are known -- from around the country "will perform their skills in maneuvering and avoiding obstacles in city conditions, knowledge of the traffic regulations, as well as shooting skills" during the August 10 competition.

Moscow authorities announced plans earlier in the week to hold a "Meat & Beat" festival on the same day as the protest, much like last weekend when Moscow's mayoral office organized a "Shashlik Fest," with free food and music.

Meanwhile, opposition activists and politicians have expressed hope that as many as 100,000 people will take part in the rally, the first since the candidates were barred to have been approved by city officials.

"Solidarity" rallies are said to be planned for Yekaterinburg, Krasnodar, and Rostov-on-Don, among other cities.

Of the 30 or so candidates barred from the Moscow poll, five are affiliated with or work for the anti-corruption foundation established by opposition leader Aleksei Navalny. Navalny and all but one of those five allies are now in jail.

Navalny himself is serving a 30-day sentence for violating protest laws.

On August 7, Russia's main election board upheld previous rulings barring the candidates from the September 8 city election.

Some 1,400 demonstrators were detained by police in a violent crackdown at a rally in the Russian capital on July 27, and more than 1,000 more were detained at a rally on August 3.

With reporting by TASS