MOSCOW, (Reuters) – Hundreds of people took to the streets of Moscow for a second successive day yesterday to demand an end to Vladimir Putin’s 12-year rule, defying a crackdown by tens of thousands of police reinforced by crack Interior Ministry troops.
Police said they had detained about 250 people in central Moscow when they tried to stage an unapproved rally and held about 200 more in St Petersburg, where opposition forces have also been emboldened by the prime minister’s worst election setback since he took power in 1999. After permitting the biggest opposition rally in Moscow for years on Monday evening, the police were out in large numbers. The Interior ministry said about 2,000 special troops were supporting almost 50,000 police, and some moved through the city centre in armoured vehicles in a show of force.
Hundreds of pro-Putin youths also tried to spoil the rally, shouting “The people! Putin” and beating drums to drown out the opposition protesters’ chants of “Russia without Putin” and “We want free elections!” A few minor scuffles broke out.
Boris Nemtsov, a liberal opposition leader, told Reuters he had been detained. Two opposition figures, blogger Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, were jailed for 15 days for their role in Monday’s opposition protest, the biggest in Moscow for years. “We are not going to stop our struggle,” Yashin said. The protests are a further sign of pressure on Putin to make changes after his United Russia lost ground in a parliamentary election on Sunday, even though it was criticised by Washington and European monitors and the opposition say it was slanted in the ruling party’s favour.