About 2,000 people on Sunday crammed into a Moscow square amid a heavy police presence for a banned rock concert to protest plans to build a motorway through a forest outside the Russian capital.
The numbers were far higher than for past opposition rallies in Moscow, but the concert failed to get off the ground after police refused to allow amplification gear through tight security, a correspondent at the scene reported.
However, veteran rocker Yuri Shevchuk, who opposed the Soviet regime and now opposes the government of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, pleased his fans by climbing onto a stepladder and singing some well-loved songs without a microphone.
Dozens of police vehicles and members of the feared OMON anti-riot police, equipped with helmets and bullet-proof vests, thronged the square.
The concert’s aim was to buttress efforts by environmental activists to oppose the construction of a highway through Khimki forest outside Moscow, which has become a symbol for Russians fighting for their rights.
While the demonstration on Pushkin Square against the construction of the road had been sanctioned by the Moscow authorities, they had explicitly banned the holding of a concert. The police said there were 800 people at the rally, but reporters estimated the crowd at about 2,000.
“We came to make beautiful speeches and sing beautiful songs, but we have a problem,” said Artemi Troitski, one of the organizers. “The sound equipment is in the car over there and the security forces are not allowing it to come on the square.”
Several opposition activists were detained ahead of the rally, including prominent campaigner Lev Ponomaryov, officials said.
Another 20 activists, including Mikhail Shneider of the opposition movement Solidarnost and former government minister Boris Nemtsov, were also detained in an earlier protest as they tried to carry a Russian flag in central Moscow to celebrate the official Flag Day holiday.
The Khimki forest northwest of Moscow is a “symbol of the civic struggle against the arbitrariness of the state,” Shevchuk said.
Shevchuk, one of a number of dissident Soviet rockers, sang his famous ballad Rodina (Motherland), whose chorus was up taken by the crowd.
“It is our forest! Russia without Putin,” the crowd chanted. One banner read “Putin allowed the forest to be chopped down.” Others shouted, “Give us sound!”
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