Kasparov Detained During Protest March in Moscow

A Russian riot policeman arrests an opposition supporter. Credit: ALEXEI SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images. i i

A Russian riot policeman arrests an opposition supporter during a rally in central Moscow on Saturday. Alexei Sazonov/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Alexei Sazonov/AFP/Getty Images
A Russian riot policeman arrests an opposition supporter. Credit: ALEXEI SAZONOV/AFP/Getty Images.

A Russian riot policeman arrests an opposition supporter during a rally in central Moscow on Saturday.

Alexei Sazonov/AFP/Getty Images

Russian opposition leader Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion, was detained by police Saturday as supporters of his organization tried to hold a forbidden protest march in central Moscow.

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SCOTT SIMON, host:

This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

In Moscow today, thousands of riot police and military troops blocked off the center of the city to prevent demonstrators from protesting the Kremlin's growing authoritarianism.

(Soundbite of police sirens)

SIMON: Police have arrested nearly 200 people, including world chess champion and political leader Garry Kasparov. He's leader of the opposition group that tried to stage the protest.

NPR's Gregory Feifer was at the scene and joins us. Gregory, what happened?

GREGORY FEIFER: Well, officials say police arrested nearly 170 people. Police blocked off the streets of central Moscow. The march was supposed to take place on central Pushkin Square. People were being arrested there to shouts of shame, shame from some of the protesters. Of course, one of the people arrested was Kasparov. He was put into a police bus, and actually managed to break a window and was waving to supporters before he was driven off.

At another square further away from the center, a demonstration was allowed. But riot police were there in great numbers along with troops. Police were forming lines and moving through the crowds and arresting some people.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who, along with Kasparov, is one of the leaders of the Other Russia group that tried to organize the protest, said that Kasparov's arrest was unacceptable.

Prime Minister MIKHAIL KASYANOV (Russia): Just only a few thousand people here are just - those protesters who want democratic Russia have against them, 20,000 military, this military operation - that's absolutely incredible. That's beyond any imagination what could happen in democratic country.

SIMON: Gregory, help us understand the message of the protest.

FEIFER: Well, they - the protesters are saying they're among the first to protest the Putin administration in general. They say it's created a police state as seen on the streets today. Their main demand is for free and fair elections. They say that Putin has taken over the free press and sidelined opposition parties. And they say - the demonstrators say that they have a constitutional right to protest, that they have every right to be out on the street today.

SIMON: Is there any indication that authorities in the Kremlin are worried that this extraordinary deployment of force against a few thousand protesters will simply draw more attention to what the protesters are saying and it seemed to confirm everything the protesters contend?

FEIFER: Well we think so. A lot of people out on the streets today were asking that very question. But most people believed that the Kremlin's main concern are - is - are elections, parliamentary elections in December this year and presidential elections next year when President Putin is due to step down. Most people believe that the authorities are doing everything possible to stifle any kind of dissent.

Today other protesters were saying that authoritarianism in Russia has grown so great that the Kremlin leaders have simply lost their heads. They will just crackdown against any critic.

SIMON: NPR's Gregory Feifer in Moscow. Thanks so much for being with us.

FEIFER: Pleasure.

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