US expresses concern at arrests of Russian protesters

AFP, Washington

Fri, Dec 09, 2011 - Page 6

The US has voiced concern over the treatment of protesters rounded up in Russia amid major opposition demonstrations to contest the results of parliamentary elections.

“We’ve expressed our concerns about the treatment of all those being arrested who were exercising their rights to peaceful protest,” US Department of State spokesman Mark Toner told reporters on Wednesday.

“We would obviously support the rights of anyone to peaceful protest — emphasis on peaceful — anywhere in the world,” Toner said. “Russia is no different.”

Toner said he was not aware of any formal diplomatic exchange about the protests, but US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has publicly questioned the fairness of the election, angering Russia.

Riot police in helmets dragged over 550 protesters into detention vans on Tuesday evening in central Moscow, during what commentators have described as the biggest opposition rallies since the chaotic early 1990s.

Despite the arrests, the opposition has pledged more rallies to protest what it sees as fraud in Sunday’s election, in which Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party won, but with a reduced majority.

Several leading US senators criticized the arrests and the “blatant fraud” of the election in a joint statement.

“We condemn the sweeping arrests of hundreds of opposition leaders, journalists, and human rights activists in Russia and the use of violence against peaceful protesters,” Republican John McCain, Independent Joseph Lieberman and Democrat Jeanne Shaheen wrote.

“We call upon the Russian government to release all of the political prisoners it has unjustly detained and clarify the whereabouts and condition of those individuals in its custody,” the senators added.

United Russia won the polls, but with a sharply reduced majority, an indication that Putin’s popularity could be waning.

International observers have said the polls were slanted in favor of United Russia, and the opposition says that the ruling party’s would fare even worse in a free election.