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The Third Day of Protests in Moscow

Source: HRO.org (info), 08/05/12

· Right of assembly  · Ministry of Internal Affairs  · Persecution of activists  · Public protests  · Moscow city & Moscow region

On 8 May 2012 police carried out mass arrests of protestors who had remained all night on Ilyinskiye Voroti Square as a part of an on-going peaceful protest. On the eve of 7 May, several flash protests broke out at the same time all over the city. Up to two to three thousand people took part in them. According to reports by human rights workers around 500 people have been detained: on Manezhnaya Square, Tverskaya Square, Gazetny Lane, Nikitsky Boulevard, Tverskoi Boulevard, Pushkin Square, Chistiye Prudi and Novaya Square in Moscow.
 

The capital's peaceful spring streets have become the back drop for clashes between the opposition and riot police. The day after the violent events at the march and demonstration people were no longer trying to resist riot police, in the meantime the police are using the same tactics they had previously employed at Triumfalnaya Square by splitting up the crowd and brutally arresting those taking part. The game of "cops and robbers" continued all day: small groups of opposition protestors would run from one street to another, splitting up and then meeting up again. They conducted improvised protests on squares and even fountains and, in short, did their utmost to demonstrate their displeasure at Vladimir Putin's return to the post of President. However, these demonstrations of displeasure were particularly notable for their peaceful nature. Despite not being completely lawful - in the opinion of the police.

On the eve of the "Million-Man March" the most active protestors had arranged via Twitter and other social networking sites to go to Manezhnaya Square on 7 May at 10 in the morning in order to greet Vladimir Putin in his 

OMON riot police pursuing protestors throughout the whole of the centre of Moscow. Photo. Maria Turchenkova 

cortege on his way to his inauguration at the Kremlin. Unsurprisingly, the police were waiting for them at 10 o'clock precisely. At 10:30, Lenta.ru's correspondent discovered that the exit to the Lenin Library Metro Station had been closed and that dozens of Putin's young supporters were roaming the station with red, white and blue ribbons in their hands. At this time, the only exit out of Okhotny Ryad Metro Station was onto Tverskaya Boulevard from the State Duma side. On the other side of Tverskaya Boulevard, near the National Hotel, a group of people (no more than a hundred) had been encircled by riot police who were attempting to push them towards the Central Telegraph Building and succeeded in achieving their objective. As with the "Objectors' March" about half of the crowd of "objectors" consisted of journalists. The police grabbed anyone wearing a white ribbon or chanting "Putin out of Russia" and dragged them into a waiting paddy wagon.

People were pushed into Gazetny Lane. In their efforts to close their retreat, the police occupied the terrace of MacDonald's causing considerable alarm to their peacefully masticating customers. As it emerged only a little later, this was not to be the last time that day that these peacefully munching members of the public were to be placed under such stress.

Within several minutes the protestors and journalists saw a wall of riot police barricading Gazetny Lane. Finally, some journalists from Kommersant proposed to their friends that they head towards Nikitsky Boulevard, where the "John Donne" and the "Jean-Jacques" are located - two well known establishments where the capital's liberal journalists meet up. There had already emerged reports on Twitter that at least 200 people had gathered next to the "Jean-Jacques" - evidently those who had been unable to get into Manezhnaya Square, which had been cordoned off in all directions. The fast growing crowd (it had been joined by people who had come out of the side streets) made its way to Nikitsky Boulevard, almost like an organised march, shouting anti-Putin slogans.

The immediate environs of the "Jean-Jacques" turned out to be crawling with riot police. The police dispersed and arrested people who had gathered next to the cafe and also people who were having breakfast on the summer terrace. One section of the crowd ran away from the police in the direction of the Arbat while the other was cut off from the "Jean-Jacques" by a wall of riot police. Boris Nemtsov was arrested on Nikitsky Boulevard. At this spot a huge number of photographs were taken which perhaps best illustrated the events of 7 May in Moscow: the bizarre sight of the much loved opposition journalist pub the "John Dunne", packed full of riot police occupying all its tables. Lenta.ru's correspondent was very envious of the people who were able to witness this remarkable sight.

Meanwhile, as the "crackdown" was unfolding on Nikitsky Boulevard (journalists were also arrested but later released) several groups of people banded together and the total number of protestors became genuinely formidable. The line of riot police pursued five hundred people armed with white ribbons and mobile phones down Nikitsky Boulevard. There wasn't a trace of fear in these people's eyes (and the participants of these opposition marches are usually a little bit frightened), which left the police commanders looking, if not bewildered at least a little non-plussed - they had no way of localising the crowd.

On this part of the Nikitsky Boulevard the protestors were joined by young, teenaged Vladimir Putin supporters who had earlier been at the Lenin Library Metro, some of them in jackets emblazoned with VV logos. They tried to hand out Victory Day and Russian tri-color ribbons and got into a slanging match with the opposition protestors by shouting out slogans. The "Pro-Kremlin" supporters were few and they were evidently being coordinated by someone - they tried to stay close to the riot police.

Those being pushed along by the police ended up in a small area at the very beginning of the boulevard. Here the riot police once again formed ranks and began to look intimidatingly at the opposition protestors from behind the visors of their helmets. At that moment "the Pro-Kremlin" supporters gleefully took photos of each other against the background of these fully equipped warriors - so that they would have something to show when they got home.

About fifteen minutes went by and the riot police suddenly ran back to the "Jean-Jacques", the crowd whistled and jeered at their retreating backs. It was around this time that the police shoved the poet Lev Rubinshtein into one of their paddy wagons, an elderly writer who is considered a classic of contemporary Russian literature.

Instead of dispersing, the opposition protestors once again began to congregate on Nikitsky Boulevard - their number was getting bigger and bigger. This crowd surrounded a small group of "pro-Kremlin" youths who had been shouting, "Putin loves everyone", and began to threateningly yell at them. "A Russia without Putin!" - chanted the opposition. "Russia is for Putin!" - replied the President's supporters. Several times the situation was on the verge of turning into a brawl, it's possible that this was precisely what the retreating riot police had been counting on, but who knows. In any event the confrontation did not escalate into a fight.

At that very moment Vladimir Putin officially became the President of Russia.

"Let's go to Manezhnaya Square!" - shouted some punks with real mohican haircuts. And the crowd set off along Tverskoy Boulevard at a good pace in an organised column, while the "pro-Kremlin" youths dejectedly shuffled along in its wake. The protestors chanting "Putin, skiing, Magadan", walked with a spring in their step- almost as if they were simply out for a Sunday stroll. It seemed to Lenta.ru's correspondent that about 600-700 people took part in this march. On the entire way to Pushkin Square not a single police officer could be seen.

And it was only when the crowd had reached Tverskoy Boulevard that police vans came speeding up the hill, with a line of riot police moving to meet the protestors from Pushkin Square and another line behind it. The riot police split the crowd up and chased them along the square in the opposite direction into the path of another group of police. Here the opposition supporters were held in a pincer movement, several managed to jump a fence and dashed for Bogoslovsky Lane. The police began their usual trick of picking out and catching anyone in the crowd with a white ribbon.

A few score people were taken to the detention vans. Lenta.ru's correspondent saw one girl ask the police to arrest "the Nashi" pro-Kremlin supporters for starting an unsanctioned demonstration. That very second the very same girl was arrested. On the whole, the riot police were providing constant protection to the "pro-Kremlin" supporters: either surrounding them in order to protect them from the crowd or leading them in a thin stream from the encirclement.

Tverskoy Boulevard was cleaned up good and proper. Small groups of people and journalists set off in different directions - some back to Nikitsky Boulevard, the rest towards Pushkin Square. Roaming around the square were another consignment of "pro-Kremlin" supporters with the insignia of the long forgotten "the Locals" movement. For some reason riot police armed with fire extinguishers rushed on to the square. Lenta.ru's correspondent also reached Tverskoy Boulevard only to find a completely empty street: police vans and buses were parked on the side of the road. Street cleaning lorries ceremoniously splattered the road as they drove past.

After lunch the opposition began to gather at Chistiye Prudi. People occupied a fountain near the memorial to Abai Kunanbayev. The police did not react immediately. After about an hour around twenty or so police vans drove up to the metro. With the minimum of preparation the riot police set off towards the crowd. The OMON used their tried and tested tactics: a line of police pressured the crowd, small groups were separated and "cleaned up" - with people being grabbed and dragged along the ground into the buses. Several times journalists were also grabbed: the police dragged them away and detained them despite being shown their press cards.

The "selection" procedure at Chistiye Prudi was much more violent than on Tverskoy Boulevard: anyone shouting a slogan, anyone wearing a white ribbon, journalists and apparently chance passers-by were all taken in. Several dozen people were detained. Amongst those detained (but quickly released) were Municipal Deputy Konstantin Yankauskas who had been demanding that police officers display their identity badges.

At the same time journalists remained on the empty boulevard. Telejournalists from Russia Today were quietly chanting: "We want to sleep, we want to eat". A group of people surrounded Mikhail Idov, the Chief Editor of Russian GQ magazine, who had arrived at Chistiye Prudi with his team. Small droplets of rain began to spit down. Some brave members of the public who had not yet been dispersed rebuked some policeman who appeared by their uniforms to be commanders: "When we are no more, it'll be the end for you as well." Just to the side of them a senior Police officer muttered through his teeth at his subordinate: "If you want to debate - then you can get out of this job." Not believing his ears Lent.ru's correspondent tried to get closer to better hear this exchange, but the senior Police officer demanded that he move away: "Go on report away, report away."

Journalists wandering around the memorial to Griboyedov were discussing the fact that a march on Manezhnaya Square had been set for 18:00 hours. Nevertheless, at the appointed time there were still a few score people, who evidently not sure what to do next. Occasionally the riot police would grab people with white ribbons from out of the crowd, unwillingly explaining their selection by the fact that "the ones with white ribbons" were suspected of organising yesterday's disturbances at Bolotnaya Square. At some distance stood the pro-Kremlin supporters in their white t-shirts adorned with the slogan "Putin is our President". They were left untouched by the riot police.

At around half past six the remaining opposition protestors set off along Chistoprudny Boulevard, turned down Pokrovka and headed in the direction of Kitai-Gorod. When the crowd had reached the Monument to the Heroes of Pleven, the square was quickly cut off by the police. Then for quite a long time nothing happened: the police were unable to distinguish the press from the opposition, and the opposition for its part did not shout any slogans. After some time documents were checked, followed by arrests. One of the police shouted into a megaphone that the demonstration was illegal. By half past seven only the police and journalists remained on the square. Everyone else, even those who had their documents with them, had been led away to the police vans. Amongst those detained were several well known bloggers including "Norwegian Wood".

It has taken the whole day for the Moscow Police to secure victory over the protestors. Although admittedly this victory has turned out to be fleeting one: at the time of writing, reports were coming in that another opposition action had started in the region of Kitai-Gorod.

Ivan Kolpakov, Aleksandr Polivanov


Participants in the night protest are dispersed with water. Photo by Veronika Maksimyuk.

Source: Lenta.ru
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