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Russian police pummel crowd at protest

Several thousand gather in St. Petersburg in a demonstration against the Kremlin. Up to 30 are reportedly detained.

March 04, 2007|From the Associated Press

ST. PETERSBURG, RUSSIA — Police clubbed protesters and dragged them into waiting buses Saturday in response to a demonstration against the Kremlin in the heart of President Vladimir V. Putin's hometown.

Several thousand members of liberal and leftist groups chanted "Shame!" as they marched down St. Petersburg's main avenue to protest what they said was Russia's rollback from democracy. The demonstration, called the March of Those Who Disagree, was a rare gathering of the country's often fractious opposition.

It was at least the third time police have moved in to break up an anti-Kremlin protest in recent months.

St. Petersburg authorities had prohibited the march, only granting permission for a rally far from the city center, but the activists defied the ban and marched down the Nevsky Prospekt, the city's main street, blocking traffic.

Riot police beat dozens of protesters with truncheons, but several thousand broke through police cordons. They marched toward the city center and rallied for about 40 minutes until police moved in again, detaining people and dragging them into buses.

Several activists attacked an officer. Police said 20 to 30 people were detained, Itar-Tass reported.

Garry Kasparov, former world chess champion who helped organize the event, said on Echo of Moscow radio that the participants numbered up to 6,000, though the crowd appeared to be about half that number. Among those detained were the head of the radical National Bolshevik Party and an independent city legislator.

"The authorities are destroying ... the constitutional structure, rights and freedoms," said former Prime Minister Mikhail M. Kasyanov, who now heads an opposition movement.

The activists accused Putin's government of cracking down on the opposition, stifling freedom of speech and eating away at democratic institutions by abolishing direct elections of provincial governors and creating an obedient parliament.

Russia's state-controlled television stations covered the protest only briefly, portraying the demonstrators as hooligans and extremists.

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