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Russia protests: Police arrest hundreds at Moscow rally

Police detain a protester in Moscow, 27 July

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Reuters

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Riot police detained hundreds of protesters on Saturday

Police in the Russian capital Moscow have detained some 300 people at an unauthorised protest against the exclusion of many opposition candidates from forthcoming local elections.

Protesters were dragged away from the city hall while thousands of others were corralled into nearby streets.

Some of the barred prospective candidates were detained earlier as police carried out searches.

The opposition say their candidates were barred for political reasons.

Officials disqualified about 30 people, saying they had failed to collect enough valid signatures to stand in the 8 September elections.

Moscow’s Mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, has called the demonstration a “security threat”, and promised to maintain public order.

Anger is widespread among opposition supporters at the way the city is run and the ruling United Russia party.

Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin, was jailed for 30 days on Wednesday after calling for Saturday’s unapproved demonstration.

How did we get here?

Local elections usually attract little attention in Russia.

The Moscow authority does not control the city’s budget or choose key official appointments, and previous votes have passed without major protests or press interest.

But this year some Muscovites are infuriated at what they see as brazen attempts to disqualify independent politicians from running.

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AFP/Getty

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Lyubov Sobol is one of the opposition candidates barred from standing

Candidates were asked to collect 5,000 signatures to stand. This limit was made even harder to match because a signature “means volunteering one’s personal information for the government’s database of opposition supporters”, democracy activist Vladimir Kara-Murza wrote in the Washington Post.

Many candidates managed to meet the threshold but the electoral commission ruled some signatures ineligible, saying they were unclear or the addresses provided were incomplete, and barred the candidates from taking part.

Opposition groups say the authorities had no reason to rule them ineligible – claims that electoral officials denied. “We have no reason to doubt our experts,” commission member Dmitry Reut said, according to media reports.

More than 20,000 Russians took to the streets on 20 July, demanding fair elections, and dozens were arrested.

Media captionScuffles broke out at a protest near the electoral commission HQ in mid-July

Mr Navalny, who addressed the crowds last Saturday, is not one of the candidates, although he stood in Moscow’s mayoral elections in 2013 and won 27% of the vote in a result he disputed.

Ella Pamfilova, the head of the electoral commission, said the protests would not change their decisions. “It doesn’t matter, not even a bit of it,” she said, dismissing the demonstrations as “political”.

The authorities banned this Saturday’s rally on the grounds that there were threats of violence against the commission.

Police then raided the homes of several opposition politicians, and called them in more for questioning.

One candidate – Lyubov Sobol, a lawyer at Mr Navalny’s Anticorruption Foundation – was carried out of the electoral commission on a sofa.

She was detained but later released.

What’s been the reaction?

Election candidate and opposition leader Dmitry Gudkov tweeted that the council had “died under Putin”.

“The last illusion that we are able to participate legally in politics has disappeared.”

Some newspapers also denounced the raids. Novaya Gazeta ran the headline Moscow City Terror on Friday, while Vedomosti said authorities were using force to suppress the protest “having failed to counter it with political means”.

Russian government paper Rossiyskaya Gazeta, however, accused the opposition of “blackmail” and “an unacceptable attitude to the statutes of law”.

Political analyst Abbas Gallyamov told BBC Russian that the official response was designed to dissuade people from taking part. Any mass action would suggest the opposition had taken the initiative from the government.

“They are afraid of the next protests, which will be even more numerous,” he said.

But some believe the demonstrations could actually benefit the local authorities by reducing turnout.

“Young opposition supporters will not come to the polls, while the older generation whom the authorities are counting on vote out of habit,” Denis Volkov, an expert at independent think tank Levada Center, told the BBC. “The authorities will orient themselves towards them.”

Russia protests: Police arrest hundreds at Moscow rally

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