Police detained more than 200 opposition activists on Saturday for taking part in a wave of anti-Kremlin protests across Russia in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, ahead of a presidential election in March, a monitoring group reported.
Under grey skies and intermittent rain, over two thousand people gathered in central Moscow’s Pushkin Square and chanted “Russia will be free” and “Russia without Putin” before walking towards the Kremlin and parliament.
Police briefly detained a few people, but did not charge anyone. It was a different story at rallies in other cities however, and the OVD-Info monitoring group, a non-profit organization, said at least 262 people had been detained in 27 towns.
In St Petersburg, Putin’s home town, a Reuters witness saw riot police roughly detain at least 11 people. OVD-Info said at least 66 people had been detained in the city.
Navalny, who is serving a 20-day jail term for violating rules on public meetings, called the rally in Moscow and other cities to coincide with Putin’s 65th birthday.
Putin, who has dominated Russia’s political landscape for almost 18 years, is widely expected to run for what would be his fourth term.
Navalny hopes to run too, despite the central election commission declaring him ineligible due to a suspended prison sentence he says was politically-motivated.