Russia opposition leaders held as protesters defy police

Sat Dec 15, 2012 12:19pm EST
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By Gabriela Baczynska and Alissa de Carbonnel

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian riot police detained four opposition leaders and broke up a crowd of about 2,000 people who went ahead with a banned rally on Saturday to demand an end to Vladimir Putin's 13-year rule.

The opposition chose a symbolic location, in front of the Soviet KGB security police's former headquarters, for the rally marking a year of protests against Putin, and said the police intervention showed the limits on dissent under the president.

Police were out in force and helicopters buzzed overhead as protesters, wrapped in scarves and fur hats because of the cold, chanted "Down with the police state" and "Russia without Putin" on the Lubyanka Square in central Moscow.

One unfurled a banner saying "crooks and thieves" - a popular term coined by bloggers for the Russian leadership.

The police eventually lost patience with the rally, which had been banned by Moscow city authorities, and strode across the square hauling protesters away one by one. About 40 people were detained, police said, and there were minor scuffles.

Leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny were detained at the start of the rally and two fellow protest leaders, Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak, were detained on their way to the protest.

All four were released without charge hours later, indicating they had been detained to prevent them stirring up the crowd at the protest.

"I don't know how many people are here but I am proud of each and every one of those who came here. The main thing is that people are here, that they are expressing their view and showing that they exist," Navalny said before he was detained.   Continued...

Police officers detain an opposition activist during unauthorised rally in central Moscow December 15, 2012. REUTERS/Mikhail Voskresensky