Moscow police arrest dozens of protesters at anti-Putin rallies

RUSSIAN police detained around two dozen anti-government protesters yesterday as hundreds rallied in downtown Moscow to denounce Vladimir Putin’s return as president and a television show that accused opposition leaders of treason.

Moscow police said they arrested more than 20 people for trying to hold an unauthorised protest at Revolution Square, along with two protesters at Pushkin Square who unfurled anti-Putin banners. The protesters were released shortly afterwards.

Several hundred protesters at Pushkin Square chanted, “Russia without Putin!”

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Prime minister Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, was re-elected earlier this month for a third term despite rallies, Russia’s largest since the Soviet collapse, that urged him to step down. The protesters at Pushkin Square cheered opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, who was released from prison on Friday night after his ten-day jail term for disobeying police orders was replaced with a fine.

Udaltsov, who leads the Left Front movement and spent several months in jail last year after a dozen arrests for organising unsanctioned rallies and disobeying police, called on the protesters to participate in the March of a Million – an opposition rally planned for 6 May, a day before Putin’s inauguration.

“This power is not legitimate,” Udaltsov told the crowd. “Imposters, get out of the Kremlin!”

The protesters also chanted “Shame on NTV,” referring to a national television channel.

An NTV report aired on Thursday alleged that opposition leaders had used American money to plan an anti-Kremlin coup, organise protests to provoke the authorities and to pay thousands of Russians to turn up for huge rallies that followed December’s fraud-tainted parliamentary election.

The report, whose authors were not named, triggered tens of thousands of angry tweets and comments on blogs and social-networking websites, and NTV’s website was briefly paralysed on Friday after what the broadcaster said was a hacking attack.