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People's Democratic Movement leader Mikhail Kasyanov (center) struggles with a riot policeman during the Dissenters' March in central Moscow on April 14, 2007. Mr. Kasyanov, a former prime minister under Mr. Putin, narrowly escaped arrest for his participation.
Photo: Yury Martyanov
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Apr. 16, 2007
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Dissenters Crushed
// The Other Russia Suffers Losses in Battles in Moscow
Central Moscow on Saturday was the setting for the third Dissenters' March, which was accompanied by mass arrests and beatings by riot police of participants and journalists covering the event. Kommersant correspondents Ekaterina Savina and Andrei Kozenko, who were at the receiving end of blows from a policeman's truncheon, have attended every previous Dissenters' March in Moscow, St. Petersburg, and Nizhny Novgorod and report that the suppression of the opposition demonstrators by police has never been more harsh.
Moscow's Pushkin Square was surrounded the night before the march by a cordon of 9,000 police officers, soldiers, and paramilitary OMON riot police, who were brought in to impose order on the Dissenters' March from as far afield as Ryazan, Kaluga, Voronezh, Rostov, Lipetsk, Tver, North Ossetia, Udmurtia, Mordovia, Bashkiria, and the Republic of Mariy-El. On Saturday, the police immediately cracked down on the participants in the Dissenters' March, which was organized by the coalition The Other Russia. One of the first to be detained was United Civil Front leader Garry Kasparov, who was arrested on Tverskaya Street while on his way to the march. Mr. Kasparov managed only to shout, "Let us through!" before being roughly grabbed by police officers and bundled into a waiting police van. Yabloko youth wing leader Ilya Yashin and "Yes" youth movement leader Maria Gaidar were arrested at about the same time while standing on a low wall above a metro underpass near Pushkin Square and chanting "Russia without Putin!"

The police vans were full of people considered by the police to be instigators of the Dissenters' March. One of them broke a window in the van, and journalists hurled themselves at the narrow opening: "Mr. Kasparov, what do you think of the actions of the police?" asked someone. Garry Kasparov managed to get out only a few words in English, among which it was possible to distinguish "Kremlin" and "hell," before the OMON cut short the interview and drove the press back with truncheons. In the scuffle, Kommersant correspondent Andrei Kozenko suffered a blow to the back, while Reuters correspondent Thomas Peter had his face beaten in while being arrested and a Japanese journalist was felled by a blow to the head.

"Can you tell me how you feel when you're beating people up?" asked an interested journalist of one of the policemen. "Be quiet!" barked a senior OMON officer to the troops under his command.

The damaged bus drove off. The detainees said later that it took them half an hour to get to the police station, because the Voronezh OMON officer driving the bus got lost in the streets of Moscow.

The participants in the march who had managed to avoid the police attempted to walk from Pushkin Square to Turgenev Square, where city officials had authorized a meeting of The Other Russia demonstrators. Along the way they encountered People's Democratic Movement leader Mikhail Kasyanov, two dozen journalists, and around 50 marchers. The demonstrators were immediately surrounded by camouflaged OMON troops. "What's with the press conference here!?" yelled a burly OMON officer into a megaphone. "Arrest them all! "FЧking journalists or not!" A minute later, after several photographers, a pair of print journalists, and a TV camera operator had been packed into waiting buses, the police went for Mr. Kasyanov. After a short scuffle, however, the former prime minister's bodyguards managed to fend them off.

A group of National Bolshevik activists and other protestors joined the rumpled Mr. Kasyanov and the remaining protestors, and together the 900 or so marchers set off in the direction of Turgenevskaya metro station. "We need another Russia! Russia without Putin! No to the police state!" chanted the demonstrators. The Bolsheviks unfurled their flags and lit flares while cars honked discontentedly in their wake. The column of marchers managed to get through several cordons of OMON troops on their way to Turgenev Square, but with heavy losses: by the time the marchers reached the square, their numbers were down by half.

"Let him go, he's fine, he's just goofing off. He's not a democrat," coaxed journalist Viktor Shenderovich upon seeing police detaining a drunk man in a ski cap. "Now he will be," promised the OMON officer. "Well, that's true, a few whacks of your truncheon and anyone would turn into a democrat," sniffed Mr. Shenderovich.

The marchers were greeted at Turgenev Square by two cordons of police officers. Around 2,500 protestors were gathered at the square when Mikhail Kasyanov began to speak: "The authorities don't fear slaves! They fear you, free people!" he cried, and the crowd murmured loudly. "Why can't free citizens walk along the street? Why are they being beaten with truncheons?" he asked. "We're not doing anything illegal, while the authorities break the law every day!" "Re-vo-lu-tion!" chanted the National Bolsheviks in reply. Mr. Shenderovich attempted to reason with them: "We need evolution, not revolution. They (the Russian authorities) are afraid of competition in honest elections, which is the logic of cowards."

As the demonstration ended, the "dissenters" headed for the metro, but OMON troops, not keen to let them off so easily, formed a gauntlet on the path to the metro entrance and hustled people down it with blows from their truncheons. "But we don't need to go to the metro, we're going the other way," said former presidential advisor Andrei Illarionov to an OMON officer from Bashkiria in an attempt to reason with him. "You're violating the constitution!" he charged, pulling a copy of the document from under his coat. In reply, the policeman raised his truncheon threateningly. "Arrest anyone suspicious!" shouted the OMON commander.

"Who's suspicious?" asked one of his subordinates.

"They all are!"

The police began to drive the people nearest to Andrei Illarionov into the metro, including Kommersant correspondent Ekaterina Savina, who was urged along by a blow to the small of her back. A woman's voice was heard above the crowd: "We're going to the police station! That's where Kasparov is!" In response the protestors moved en masse into the metro underpass.

When Kommersant's correspondents arrived at the Presnenskaya police station, they found the 200 people who had already gathered there chanting the names of detainees inside: "Kas-pa-rov! U-dal-tsov! (Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Red Youth Avant-Guard movement)" cried Kasparov assistant Marina Litvinovich through a megaphone, and the crowd fell into synch with her. The crowd continued to chant until the doors of the police station opened to release activist Maria Gaidar, who had been arrested on Pushkin Square. "Now they'll let the rest of them out too," said someone. The OMON, however, had other plans.

"Your picket is illegal, break it up!" ordered an OMON commander. But the protestors had nowhere to go: they were surrounded on all sides by OMON troops, who fell upon the crowd with rubber truncheons and began to beat people indiscriminately. Those who weren't being beaten could only stand and wait their turn, as there was no way out of the circle of policemen. Some protestors were snatched from the crowd and shoved up against the fence and parked cars in the street to be beaten again. In front of a Kommersant correspondent, three OMON officers flung a young man against the fence before knocking him to the ground, where they began to beat him. When he tried to get up, he cried out and fell back, clutching his ankle. "Beasts! Fascists! Shame!" screamed the crowd. The loudest demonstrators were pulled from the crowd and dragged off to the waiting police vans.

"Pick these ones up," ordered the commander, pointing at Oboron ("Defense") movement coordinator Oleg Kozlovsky and a young woman with red hair.

"Will you also break their legs?" asked a Kommersant correspondent.

"We'll break your fЧking leg," snarled the officer.

People leaned over their balcony railings in the apartment building next door. "You're not people, you're beasts!" cried a middle-aged woman in an apron from the second floor.

Garry Kasparov was eventually escorted out of the police station by a side door and delivered to a nearby court. Officially the court session was open to the public, but none of the journalists made it past the police at the entrance to the building. Mr. Kasparov was fined 1,000 rubles (about $40), but he promised that protests will continue: "Street protests are the only constitutionally-sanctioned way for us to put pressure on the authorities. We just need to come up with a more effective way of organizing similar protests and attempting to attract as many people to the process as possible," he said. Mikhail Kasyanov had said the same thing at a meeting of the United Civil Front on April 12: "We won't get anywhere with ordinary political means against the current authorities Ц they fear only mass protests."

The Moscow authorities claimed that "there was no Dissenters' March at all." Nikolai Kulikov, the head of the Moscow city government's Department for Work with Security Agencies, explained to Kommersant that "it was an attempt at provocation by a group of citizens, but, despite resistance and abuse, the police succeeded in keeping the peace on the streets of Moscow."

Ekaterina Savina and Andrei Kozenko

All the Article in Russian as of Apr. 16, 2007

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