Russian opposition plans major Moscow protest after crackdown

As he enters his third decade in power, Putin’s approval ratings have dropped significantly in recent months. (File/AFP)
Updated 10 August 2019

Russian opposition plans major Moscow protest after crackdown

  • In recent weeks, thousands have attended street protests calling for free and fair elections
  • Riot police and the national guard have used more violent tactics than previously and detained more than 2,000 at the last two rallies

MOSCOW: Russian opposition supporters plan a major protest in Moscow on Saturday after police detained thousands at recent demonstrations that have been among the largest since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012.
In recent weeks, thousands have attended street protests calling for free and fair elections after the exclusion of several opposition figures, including allies of top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, from local Moscow elections next month.
Riot police and the national guard have used more violent tactics than previously and detained more than 2,000 at the last two rallies, which were not authorized by city officials.
Most opposition candidates who have been banned from participating in the vote have been jailed for violating protest laws.
A dozen protesters including university students face criminal charges of “mass disorder” that call for lengthy jail terms, despite their supporters insisting protests were peaceful.
Saturday’s rally has been authorized which means participants should not face detention for protesting at the agreed location, but Navalny, who is currently in jail, has urged supporters to walk peacefully through the city afterwards.
Moscow police and the powerful Investigative Committee issued a warning against participating in unsanctioned protests which it said would be “immediately halted.”
Showing the movement’s appeal to young Russians, popular electronic and rap musicians are expected to play at the rally and mainstream celebrities have announced they will attend.
One of Russia’s most famous rappers, Oxxxymiron, urged his fans to go, as did a star YouTube blogger Yury Dud.
“Let’s not accept it as normal when innocent people are thrown in jail or harshly beaten up by police,” Dud wrote on Instagram to his 2.3 million followers.
The latest demonstrations come as the authorities this week mounted their harshest attack yet on Navalny’s team, focusing on his anti-corruption foundation which publishes investigations of officials close to Putin.
On Thursday investigators raided the foundation’s office as part of a probe into alleged acceptance of donations of laundered money and a court froze the foundation’s accounts.
“This is the most aggressive attempt yet to gag us,” Navalny wrote in a blog entry he issued through lawyers while serving a 30-day sentence.
One of the foundation’s lawyers, Lyubov Sobol, has been on hunger strike for weeks after being refused as a candidate in Moscow.
“These are all acts of political intimidation, political repression,” she told journalists on Friday, condemning the criminal cases launched against activists as “fabricated and politically motivated.”
As he enters his third decade in power, Putin’s approval ratings have dropped significantly in recent months and critics say authorities fear any outlet calling for wider political change.
Moscow has even accused the US of encouraging people to attend protests, after the embassy posted the route of a recent march along with warnings to avoid the area.
“The repressive scenario that the authorities are relying on can probably dampen down open discontent but is hardly likely to reach the root of the problem,” wrote Vedomosti daily in an editorial.
“A large section of society is not represented in power.”


Hong Kong reopens after violent weekend of clashes and protests

Updated 36 min 5 sec ago

Hong Kong reopens after violent weekend of clashes and protests

  • Thousands of anti-government protesters engaged in cat-and-mouse tactics with police on Sunday
  • Police issued a statement expressing ‘severe condemnation’ after the peaceful protest spiraled into violence

HONG KONG: Hong Kong’s businesses and underground rail stations re-opened as usual on Monday morning, after a chaotic Sunday that saw police fire water cannon, tear gas and rubber bullets at protesters who blocked roads and threw petrol bombs outside government headquarters.
Thousands of anti-government protesters, many clad in black masks, caps and shades to obscure their identity, had raced through the streets, engaged in cat-and-mouse tactics with police, setting street fires and blocking roads in the heart of the former British colony where many key business districts are located.
Authorities moved quickly to douse the fires and police fired volleys of tear gas to disperse them, including in the bustling shopping and tourist district of Causeway Bay.
Police issued a statement early on Monday expressing “severe condemnation” after what began as a mostly peaceful protest had spiraled into violence in some of the Chinese territory’s key business, shopping and tourist districts.
Around 20 “radical protesters” had attacked two police officers on Sunday evening, hurling petrol bombs, bricks, and threatening the safety of the officers, the statement said.
The demonstrations were the latest in over three months of sometimes violent protests, with protesters angered by what they see as creeping interference by Beijing in Hong Kong’s affairs despite promises by Beijing to grant the city wide-ranging autonomy and freedoms denied in mainland China.
The initial trigger for the protests was a contentious extradition bill, now withdrawn, that would have allowed people to be sent to mainland China for trial.
The protests have since broadened into other demands including universal suffrage and an independent inquiry into allegations of excessive force by the police.
At least 18 people were injured, three of them seriously, during Sunday’s violence, according to the Hospital Authority.
Nearly 1,400 people have been arrested since the protests started in June, but police gave no update on the number arrested over the weekend.
The protests have weighed on the city’s economy as it faces its first recession in a decade, with tourist arrivals plunging 40 percent in August amid some disruptions at the city’s international airport.
By Sunday evening, the running battles between anti-government protesters and police had spilled into street brawls between rival groups in the districts of Fortress Hill and North Point further east on Hong Kong island, where men in white T-shirts, believed to be pro-Beijing supporters, some wielding hammers, rods and knives, clashed with anti-government activists.
On a street close to North Point, home to a large pro-Beijing community, a Reuters witness saw one man in a white T-shirt sprawled on the ground with head wounds.
Hong Kong media reported that groups of pro-Beijing supporters had attacked journalists.
Police eventually intervened and sealed off some roads to try to restore order, and they were seen taking away several men and women from an office run by a pro-Beijing association.
Democratic lawmaker Ted Hui was arrested for allegedly obstructing the police, according to his Democratic Party’s Facebook page, as he tried to mediate on the streets in North Point.