MOSCOW, DEC. 30 -- Police with bulldozers today razed Moscow's "Tent City," a group of makeshift shelters near the Kremlin that sprang up in a gesture of disillusionment with Soviet life.
Internal security police rounded up the protest city's almost four dozen residents in the early hours before bulldozers moved in and flattened their plastic and cardboard dwellings, witnesses said.
Tent City, which sprang up in July, drew people from across the country who felt they were deprived, wronged or destitute to air their grievances at the Kremlin gates. Some were seeking pensions, housing or jobs, while others sought redress for wrongs they said had been committed by local authorities in their towns and villages.
"The tent city was a political protest by the simple people," said Svetlana Sedykh, who lived for three months in the shantytown to further her bid to emigrate and who narrowly escaped being taken into custody.
A government spokesman said the sweep followed orders from the Moscow prosecutor after a decision by the Executive Committee, a branch of the local government.
The spokesman said 47 people -- who included elderly pensioners, war veterans and former mental patients -- were rounded up between 2:35 and 3:50 a.m., one day after residents had been asked to end their protest.
"I heard a loud noise at about 4 a.m. and looked out of the window," said Soviet seaman Eduard Zaslavsky, whose room in the Rossiya Hotel overlooked the site. "There were trucks and bulldozers. They took the people away in city buses."
A police officer at the scene said some would be sent to mental hospitals while others would be freed after investigation. But the government spokesman said protesters would be given free tickets back to their hometowns.