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Hundreds of Russians protest against Putin

Demonstrators call for ousting of prime minister, freedom of assembly

MOSCOW (AP) ― About 500 people demonstrated in a central Moscow square Monday to demand the ouster of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his “rule of thieves.”

The rally took place peacefully, but police detained a separate group of 20 opposition activists nearby. About 60 protesters also were detained in St. Petersburg, one of a number of other cities where demonstrations were held.

Prominent opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was arrested and jailed for 15 days following a similar demonstration a month ago, kept up his assault on Russia’s longtime leader as he addressed the protesters on Moscow’s Triumph Square.

He compared Putin to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, who is facing mass unrest after 30 years in power.

“Please, someone tell me how our leadership differs from his,”
Police officers detain an opposition activist during a banned anti-Kremlin protest in St. Petersburg, Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)
Police officers detain an opposition activist during a banned anti-Kremlin protest in St. Petersburg, Monday. (AP-Yonhap News)

Nemtsov shouted to the crowd from the back of a truck. “Russia has to get rid of Putin.”

Nemtsov has accused Putin of allowing corruption to pervade the corridors of power and of building up considerable personal wealth during his 11 years in power at the expense of ordinary Russians. He also has denounced Putin’s reversal of the democratic achievements of the 1990s.

Russia’s beleaguered opposition holds demonstrations on the last day of every month with 31 days to call attention to the 31st Article of Russia’s Constitution, which guarantees freedom of assembly.

The city authorized Monday’s rally, but it also authorized the rally Dec. 31, during which 68 people were arrested, including Nemtsov. He was arrested after the rally while walking across the square to his car.

Nemtsov’s arrest drew Western condemnation and mobilized his supporters, who held daily pickets outside the jail where he was being held.

Hundreds of police surrounded the square Monday, but they allowed the demonstrators to disperse after the hourlong rally ended with cries of “Down with the rule of thieves.”

Police did, however, detain another opposition leader, Eduard Limonov, and his supporters as they walked away from the square.

City police spokesman Gennady Bogachev said they were attempting to organize their own rally.

In the U.S., the White House said it was troubled by the detentions and reports that demonstrators were being mistreated, including accusations that some were beaten by police.

Limonov, who was arrested ahead of last month’s rally shortly after leaving his home and sentenced to 15 days in jail, has refused to join other opposition leaders at the sanctioned demonstrations.

In St. Petersburg, the opposition did not have permission to protest. Police spokesman Vyacheslav Stepchenko said officers detained 60 people when they broke up the rally.
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