By Peter Finn
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, November 25, 2007
MOSCOW, Nov. 24 -- Opposition leader Garry Kasparov was detained by police Saturday after he and a couple of hundred supporters attempted to march on Russia's Central Election Commission following a rally in Moscow that drew several thousand people.
"They tried to push us back, but maybe then they got a new order, so they arrested us," said Kasparov, speaking to Echo Moskvy radio from a bus where he was being held. "I saw them beating people."
Meanwhile, a candidate in next Sunday's parliamentary elections from the small Yabloko party died Saturday from wounds sustained when he was shot four times outside his home Wednesday in the southern republic of Dagestan.
Police broke up rallies held by Other Russia, the coalition led by Kasparov, in several cities Saturday.
But the Moscow rally passed without incident and drew a larger-than-usual crowd for a Kasparov-led event, probably because of the participation of the Union of Right Forces, an opposition party that previously had kept its distance from the chess grandmaster and his allies.
In the run-up to the parliamentary elections, the Union of Right Forces has complained bitterly about pressure from the authorities and appears to be adopting a more radical anti-Kremlin stance.
Party officials said 17 regional leaders dropped their candidacies after facing threats, including one whose house was set on fire by unknown opponents. Interior Ministry police have seized 20 million copies of the party's newspaper, which the Union of Right Forces was planning to distribute to voters, party officials said.
The pro-Kremlin United Russia party is expected to win an overwhelming majority in the voting. But the campaign is the most closely controlled in post-Soviet history and has been marked by an atmosphere of intimidation, according to opposition leaders.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, an independent member of parliament who also had been ambivalent about Kasparov's coalition, addressed the rally Saturday.
"The feeling of disgust and protest has made us come here," said Ryzhkov, whose Republican Party was refused registration and cannot run in the parliamentary elections.
As Ryzhkov and others spoke, pro-Kremlin agitators boomed cackling laughter from loudspeakers behind police, who made no move to stop them.
Russian political satirist Viktor Shenderovich noted in an interview at Saturday's rally that a similar stunt by the opposition would not last a minute if directed against President Vladimir Putin or a United Russia rally.
Moscow city officials said Kasparov and some of his supporters had attempted to incite police during the march. Kasparov was sentenced to five days in jail.
"A number of participants in the event provoked disorder, which police curbed," said Mikhail Solomentsev, a spokesman for the city administration. "Responsibility of those participants in the rally who committed unlawful deeds is being established now."
Kasparov ally Eduard Limonov, human rights activist Lev Ponomarev and Union of Right Forces candidate for parliament Mariya Gaidar were also detained after the rally. Gaidar was quickly released.
Many of the rallies planned across Russia were canceled after organizers were arrested, their colleagues said, or they ended quickly when police broke them up violently.
In the southern city of Samara, two activists were detained as they left their apartments Saturday morning and several others vanished and could not be reached on their cellphones, according to Anastasia Kurt-Adzhiyeva, an organizer of the city's protest.
"The reason for not holding the protest are the actions of the security agencies," said Kurt-Adzhiyeva, speaking to journalists in the city. "In these circumstances, we decided not to hold the rally planned for today because we do not see the reason to take to the streets and then spend five hours at a police station."
Police officers wielding batons dispersed an opposition rally in Nazran, the capital of the southern Russian republic of Ingushetia. Echo Moskvy said several protesters were injured.
Earlier Saturday in Nazran, a human rights activist and three journalists in the city to cover the rally were severely beaten and dumped in a field, their station reported. Armed, masked men took the journalists, who had traveled from Moscow for Ren-TV, from their hotel in Nazran about midnight. The station said one of them was in serious condition.
But some officials in the republic said nothing had happened.
"The information spread by some media outlets that REN-TV journalists were abducted and beaten up is not true," the Ingush Interior Ministry said in a statement, describing the reports as "sleazy falsehoods," according to the Russian news agency Interfax.
In Dagestan, the head of the ticket for the opposition Yabloko party died Saturday. Farid Babayev was shot late Wednesday at the entrance to his apartment building. Babayev, a human rights activist, was a vocal critic of the local authorities and United Russia.
He never regained consciousness, health officials said Saturday.
"It's a vivid example of the atmosphere in Dagestan in particular and Russia in general," party leader Grigory Yavlinsky said on Russian television.