Tue, Dec 16, 2008 - Page 6 News List

Russian police block anti-Kremlin protest

AP AND AFP , MOSCOW

Russian police thwarted a banned anti-Kremlin protest in central Moscow on Sunday, seizing dozens of demonstrators and shoving them into trucks.

Organizers said 130 people were detained around the capital but police put the number at 90. The opposition movement headed by fierce Kremlin critic and former chess champion Garry Kasparov said the co-leader of the group was one of those seized.

The Other Russia movement organized Sunday’s protest, in defiance of a ban, to draw attention to Russia’s economic troubles and to protest Kremlin plans to extend the presidential term from four years to six. Critics say the constitutional change as part of a retreat from democracy and is aimed at strengthening the grip of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his allies.

News broadcasts on the main TV networks made no mention of the Moscow crackdown or of protests in St. Petersburg and Vladivostok.

Kasparov and other prominent liberals have just launched a new anti-Kremlin movement called Solidarity in a bid to unite Russia’s liberal forces and encourage a popular revolution similar to those in Ukraine and Georgia.

Before the scheduled start of Sunday’s protest, hundreds of officers guarded Triumph Square, which was ringed by police trucks and metal barriers.

Police roughly grabbed protesters who tried to enter the square, dragging at least 25 people into waiting trucks.

Police also seized Other Russia co-leader Eduard Limonov along with a handful of bodyguards as they walked toward the square. They were bundled into police vehicles.

Kasparov and a group of supporters decided to avoid police by marching in a different location, then set off for a third site after finding another strong police presence, spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich said.

Kasparov’s Web site said police in Moscow also broke up a protest by a hard-line group of retired generals in a square nearby and detained about 50 participants.

The group, the Soviet Officers’ Union, could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the government has submitted to parliament a new bill expanding the definition of treason, a move lawyers worry could be a throwback to the Soviet times when any criticism was punished.

The bill — which was submitted Friday to the State Duma — expands the definition of treason to not only acting against national security but also against the constitutional order of the country and state integrity. Currently, treason is defined as “treacherous acts aimed at damaging external security.”

The bill also said that “rendering financial or material and technical or consultative support to “a foreign organization” would also amount to state treason.

The government submitted the amendments on the same day the State Suma passed a third and final reading of a bill abolishing jury trials for crimes like terrorism and espionage.

The bill also abolished jury trials for people suspected of treason, hostage-taking, organising mass disturbances and some other serious crimes, in a move human rights groups fear will weaken the judicial system.

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