MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of anti-government activists challenging President Vladimir Putin’s rule were protesting across Russia on Monday, with police arresting main opposition leader Alexei Navalny outside his Moscow home before he could reach the main demonstration and scores of others.
Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said on his Twitter feed that he was arrested about a half-hour before the Moscow demonstration was to begin. Police later confirmed the arrest, saying he could get up to 15 days in jail on charges of failing to follow police orders and violating public order.
Although city authorities had agreed to a location for the Moscow protest, Navalny called for it to be moved to Tverskaya Street, one of Moscow’s main thoroughfares. He said contractors hired to build a stage at the agreed-upon venue could not do their work after apparently coming under official pressure.
Tverskaya, known in Soviet times as Gorky Street, was closed off to traffic on Monday for an extensive commemoration of the national holiday Russia Day, including people dressed in historical Russian costumes.
Moscow police blocked part of the street with big dump trucks in a bid to block the movement of protesters. Associated Press journalists witnessed at least 50 arrests in the St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city, with Russian media reporting at least 150 arrested in the city. AP reporters also saw at least 10 arrests in Moscow, with reports saying there were up to 100 so far in the capital.
After the change, Moscow police warned that “any provocative actions from the protesters’ side will be considered a threat to public order and will be immediately suppressed.” The protesters, some carrying Russian flags, were chanting loudly as Moscow riot police stood watch.
A regional security official, Vladimir Chernikov, told Ekho Moskvy radio that police wouldn’t interfere with demonstrators on the street — as long as they didn’t carry placards or shout slogans. More than 1,000 protesters were arrested at a similar rally March 26.
The protests in March took place in scores of cities across the country, the largest show of discontent in years and a challenge to President Vladimir Putin’s dominance of the country. The Kremlin has long sought to cast the opposition as a phenomenon of a privileged, Westernized urban elite out of touch with people in Russia’s far-flung regions. But Monday’s protests could demonstrate that it has significant support throughout the vast country.
Navalny’s website reported Monday that protests were held in more than a half-dozen cities in the Far East, including the major Pacific ports of Vladivostok and Khabarovsk and in Siberia’s Barnaul. Eleven demonstrators were arrested in Vladivostok, according to OVD-Info, a website that monitors political repressions.
Navalny has become the most prominent figure in an opposition that has been troubled by factional disputes. He focuses on corruption issues and has attracted a wide following through savvy use of internet video. His report on alleged corruption connected to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev was the focus of the March protests.
Navalny has announced his candidacy for the presidential election in 2018. He was jailed for 15 days after the March protests. In April, he suffered damage to one eye after an attacker doused his face with a green antiseptic liquid.