dpa/GNA – More than 2,100 people have been detained at demonstrations across Russia in support of opposition leader Alexei Navalny, rights activists said on Sunday, with the number set to rise as security forces act to contain the unrest.
More than 470 were taken into custody in Moscow alone, according to the OVD-Info portal, which monitors law enforcement in Russia. The city centre was almost completely closed off.
Navalny’s wife, Yulia, was among those detained in the capital, after posting a picture on Instagram of herself on the street.
Earlier in the day she had railed against the house arrest imposed on her husband’s brother, Oleg Navalny, referring to him as a “hostge.”
Yulia Navalnaya was also held a week ago at similar mass protests in Moscow.
Police in riot gear in the capital used fencing to block protesters from reaching a planned meeting place near the headquarters of the FSB security agency, according to a dpa reporter at the scene.
The police action led organizers to point supporters to new meeting points. Hundreds gathered at one of them, the Krasnye Vorota (Red Gate) underground station, where security forces met them.
From the station the demonstrators then began marching together and chanting “Russia without Putin,” “Freedom for political prisoners” and “Russia will be free.” Passing cars honked their horns in solidarity.
Authorities said there were 300 demonstrators at the protest in Moscow, defying authorities’ repeated warnings not to take part in the banned action.
In an effort to dampen the protests, authorities closed seven metro stations, and shops, cafes and restaurants will not be allowed to open.
Similar scenes were playing out in Russia’s second biggest city Saint Petersburg, where according to accounts much of the centre had been shut off to the public.
News reports from the city described police using tear gas and tasers against the protesters. Security personnel were threatening them with live weapons.
Images from the city of Kazan, 700 kilometres east of Moscow, showed several demonstrators forced to lie down in the snow by police.
The first confrontations with police began in Russia’s Far East, where at least 250 people were detained. One hundred were detained in the major port of Vladivostock alone, OVD-Info reported.
Videos posted online showed demonstrators being hauled into buses by police.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken criticized Russian authorities for their heavy-handed treatment of anti-government protesters.
“The US condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” tweeted Blinken, who has been in the post for less than a week as part of President Joe Biden’s new administration.
The Russian Foreign Ministry fired back, accusing the US of “gross interference” in its domestic affairs.
Last weekend, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets to call for Navalny’s immediate release and to protest against Russian President Vladimir Putin. Rights activists estimate that 4,000 people were arrested and many were injured at the unprecedented protests.
They also took aim at Navalny’s associates in recent days, with his brother Oleg, his associate Lyubov Sobol and other supporters being sentenced to two months of house arrest.
Navalny returned to Russia earlier this month after receiving treatment in Germany following a near-fatal assassination attempt with the nerve agent Novichok. He was immediately detained upon his arrival in Moscow and sentenced to pretrial detention.
A Russian court on Thursday confirmed his 30-day pretrial sentence, rejecting an appeal by the dissident’s lawyers to set him free.