MOSCOW -- Russian police have detained dozens of demonstrators outside the Moscow Election Commission headquarters after opposition candidates called for a sit-in protest following their exclusion from city council elections.
Opposition candidates Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol, and Yulia Galyamina were among those taken to police stations on July 14 after several hours of peaceful protest.
Popular opposition figure Aleksei Navalny, who had been released from 10 days of house arrest on July 11, did not attend the protest.
OVD-Info, a nongovernmental organization that monitors Russian police, said 38 people had been arrested, while Moscow police said there had been "more than 25" detentions.
The police action came shortly after Sobol called on Muscovites to sit outside the headquarters until Moscow Election Commission Chairman Valentin Gorbunov met the opposition candidates, who are demanding they be included on the September ballot.
"If we don't defend elections now, then there won't be any more in Moscow," Sobol said in a Twitter post as she called for more citizens to join the protest.
Sobol told them to bring water, tents, and padding to sit on as they waited for the chairman. She also said she would go on a hunger strike until Gorbunov met her.
Gorbunov, who has overseen Moscow elections for the past quarter-century, was at his summer house for the day, the opposition leaders said they were told when they arrived at the headquarters.
The chairman denied in comments to local media that his commission unfairly excluded the candidates from the September city elections and accused Sobol of whipping up sentiment on social media.
Several hundred people gathered outside the headquarters, chanting, "This is not an election, this is fraud!" and "Allow fair elections!"
Some heeded Sobol's advice, carrying yoga mats for the sit-in while others brought food.
Police first cordoned off the area as people arrived with food and mats before moving in to break up the demonstration.
The opposition candidates held a protest earlier in the day in the center of Moscow to denounce their exclusion from the September city council race.
About 1,000 people joined them as they symbolically knocked on the office door of Mayor Sergei Sobyanin so he would "hear" their anger over the election snub.
They then made their way to the Moscow Election Committee headquarters to demand a meeting with Gorbunov.
Candidates had to submit 4,500 verifiable signatures of support by July 6 to the commission to be eligible to run in the September elections.
Voters had to give their address and passport details along with the name and signature.
The election commission claimed that many of the signatures for opposition candidates were invalid, declaring that either names, addresses, or passport details were incorrect.
Sobol had nearly 15 percent of her signatures invalidated, surpassing the permissible number of 10 percent, Gorbunov told reporters on July 14.
"She does not have enough signatures for registration. And through social media she is pressuring the election commission," he said.
Sobol shared on social media several examples of signatures that she claims were unfairly invalidated because the commission's database has incorrect voter information.
One voter named Vladimir who signed the petition in support of her candidacy is listed in the election database as "Vladmir," with the first "i" in his name missing.
Another signature was stricken because the voter's address was determined to be invalid. Yet the commission approved another person at the same address, she said.
The Interior Ministry's forensic handwriting expert concluded other signatures were fake, though Sobol has photos of the people signing their names.
Sobol, a prominent investigator with opposition politician Aleksei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation, blamed her exclusion on Sobyanin.
"I am sure that the decision not to allow me to participate in the election was made personally by Sobyanin. In any other cases, the commission would not have agreed to such an obvious sham in the final protocol."
Sobyanin's office could not be immediately reached for comment, nor had he or his office posted any comment on social media.
Sobol earlier told RFE/RL that her campaign for the City Duma seat from Moscow's 43rd district has faced an onslaught of dirty tactics clearly aimed at intimidating her and her supporters and derailing her candidacy.