Eight Russians convicted of attacking police at anti-Putin protest

Fri Feb 21, 2014 12:43pm EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska and Ian Bateson

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian judge on Friday convicted eight defendants of rioting and assaulting police at a protest against Vladimir Putin, in what one of his leading critics called a "show trial" designed to make clear the president would tolerate no dissent.

In a show of force outside the courthouse, police pushed into a crowd of hundreds that had gathered to support the defendants, grabbing people one by one and hauling them away.

Moscow police said they detained about 200 people for attempting to violate public order.

The convictions, which activists had anticipated, coincided with political turmoil in neighboring Ukraine, where dozens have died in violence the Kremlin blames on militant government opponents it accuses the West of encouraging.

The defendants - seven men and a woman mostly in their 20s - were found guilty of rioting and violence against police at an opposition protest on May 6, 2012, the eve of Putin's inauguration for a third term as president.

Putin's opponents blame the police for clashes at that rally on Moscow's Bolotnaya Square - one of a series of protests that were the most concerted during his long rule but failed to prevent his return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.

They say it was part of a fresh clampdown on dissent by Putin, first elected in 2000, that has included restrictive laws, accusations of Western meddling and the jailing of critics such as members of Pussy Riot.

Putin has denied he uses the courts as a political tool, and has said violence against police must not go unpunished.   Continued...