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Russia protests broken up by police

Boris Nemtsov (left), 82-year-old Ludmila Alexeeva and Valery Borshchyov (right) at the Moscow rally, 31 January 2010
Sunday's rally was the latest in defence of the right to free assembly

Russian police have broken up rallies over the weekend that demanded respect for the right to free assembly.

Leading opposition activists were among dozens arrested as riot police broke up a 300-strong protest in Moscow on Sunday.

Those detained were released and ordered to appear in court this week charged with breaching rules on public gathering.

A similar demonstration was broken up in St Petersburg on Sunday.

On Saturday, a protest against the rise of living costs in the Baltic territory of Kaliningrad swelled into an anti-Moscow rally that drew some 10,000 demonstrators.

Prominent activists detained

At Sunday's rally in Moscow, demonstrators brandishing placards shouted "Down with Putin!" and "Shame!" as police in protective clothing herded some of them into buses.

Among those detained were Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov and rights activists Oleg Orlov and Lev Ponomarev.

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Saturday's rally in Kaliningrad grew a crowd some 10,000-strong

"It is necessary to fight for citizens' rights practically - to realise the rights that are stated in the 31st Article of the constitution," said Mr Orlov, head of Memorial, a human rights organisation.

Moscow police spokesman Viktor Biryukov told Interfax news agency the police had acted to stop "members of the opposition" staging "an unauthorised protest".

"Police were forced to arrest the most active participants who were brandishing placards and shouting anti-government slogans," he said.

Oleg Orlov won the European Parliament's Sakharov Prize for human rights last year.

The president of the Euroepan Parliament, Jerzy Buzek, condemned the arrests, saying: "I call on the Russian authorities to cease this heavy-handed treatment of peaceful demonstrators."

Rights activists have held rallies on the 31st of every month in defence of their right to protest, as enshrined in the 31st article of Russia's constitution. Often their applications to hold the demonstrations legally have been rejected.

On New Year's Eve, the US complained after 82-year-old Ludmila Alexeeva, a founder of Russia's oldest rights organisation, the Moscow Helsinki Group, was arrested at a similar rally in Moscow.



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