Protesters gather in 100 cities across Russia; top Putin critic arrested

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MOSCOW — The Russian police arrested hundreds of people in nationwide anti-corruption protests on Sunday, including the opposition leader Alexei Navalny in Moscow, where thousands gathered for the biggest demonstration in five years against President Vladimir Putin.

The protest in the capital took the form of a synchronized walk along a major shopping street to avoid a ban on unsanctioned stationary gatherings. It coincided with similar rallies in 99 cities across the country — from Vladivostok in the far east to Kaliningrad in the west — according to the organizer, Navalny's anti-corruption foundation.

All but 17 of these, the foundation said, had been declared illegal by the authorities.

In Moscow, some protesters tried to block security vans with cars, and the authorities deployed riot police and surveillance helicopters. But they mostly avoided the brutal measures used in neighboring Belarus on Saturday against protesters in the capital, Minsk, and other cities.

The police in Belarus beat and arrested hundreds of people who tried to gather for the latest in demonstrations against President Alexander Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994.

The protests in Russia on Sunday — nominally against corruption but also a rare show of public defiance against Putin, who has found a fierce and enduring critic in Navalny — were the largest coordinated display of public dissatisfaction since anti-Kremlin demonstrations in 2011 and 2012, after an election that was tainted by fraud.

Protesters tried to prevent a police van from taking Navalny away and chanted: "This is our city. This is our city." Others shouted, "Russia without Putin," and held up pieces of paper denouncing the Russian president and his allies as thieves.

In a Twitter post, Navalny urged his followers to continue with the demonstration after he was grabbed by police officers as he tried to join the crowds along Tverskaya Street in the center of Moscow.

"Guys, I'm OK," he wrote in a message in Russian. "No need to fight to get me out. Walk along Tverskaya. Our topic of the day is the fight against corruption."

The Moscow Police Department said on its website that "around 500" people had been arrested in the city for taking part in an "unapproved public event." OVD-info, a group that monitors arrests, said the number of arrests in Moscow was at least 1,000.


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