| Riot police officers detain former chess champion Garry Kasparov (centre) in Moscow on Saturday. (Reuters)
Moscow, April 14 (AP): Police detained Russian Opposition leader Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, and at least 100 other activists today as they gathered for a forbidden anti-Kremlin demonstration in central Moscow.
About 200 Kasparov supporters later gathered outside the police station where he was being held, shouting: “Freedom for political prisoners.” After about an hour, police waded into the crowd, beating some demonstrators with truncheons and kicking them, forcing the crowd to disperse. “All the best,” one riot police officer said ironically as the crowd was pushed away.
The demonstration, one in a series of so-called Dissenters’ Marches, increased tension between Opposition supporters who complain the Kremlin is cracking down on political dissent and authorities who vow to block any unauthorised demonstrations.
A similar march planned for St Petersburg tomorrow also has been banned.
Since the first such march in December in Moscow, Kasparov has emerged as one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics.
He has vowed to accelerate his protest actions as Russia draws nearer to presidential and parliamentary elections. Kasparov’s United Civil Front organisation works with other Opposition groups in a loose alliance called Other Russia, which organised the marches.
After his detention, he waved and smiled from a police van and did not appear to have been hurt. “Today the regime showed its true colours, its true face,” he said.
Police department spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said Kasparov was detained on suspicion of calling for provocations. Gildeyev said about 170 people in total were detained in and around the square.
Later in the evening, a court was hearing his case. During a break in the hearing, Kasparov said Russia is descending into authoritarianism. “Today is an important demonstration of the degeneration of Putin’s regime,” he said.
City authorities gave permission to Other Russia to hold a rally at Turgenev Square, but denied their request to gather at the more central and prominent Pushkin Square.
Other Russia defied the ban and declared they would march from Pushkin Square to the other square. Police detained scores of activists at Pushkin Square, but thousands of others began marching.
Among them was Mikhail Kasyanov, who was Putin’s first Prime Minister but now has gone into Opposition.
“Everyone should ask the question: what is happening with our authorities — are they still sane, or have they gone mad'” Kasyanov said.