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More than 1,000 people detained in Moscow amid clashes over city council election, monitor says

Police in Moscow on July 27 beat and arrested protesters who were decrying the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for city council elections. (Video: AP)

MOSCOW — Russian police in riot gear detained more than 1,000 protesters Saturday at a demonstration against the exclusion of opposition politicians from the ballot for an upcoming city council election, a monitoring group said, marking another flare of anti-government defiance a week after Moscow’s largest opposition rally in years.

Police said around 3,500 people gathered near City Hall for the unauthorized protest organized by prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny. Earlier this week, a Russian court sentenced Navalny to 30 days in jail for calling for the demonstration. A handful of other prominent opposition politicians also were arrested before the rally took place.

OVD-Info, a monitoring group that tracks political arrests in Russia, said more than 1,000 people were detained during police sweeps Saturday. State-run news agencies, including Tass, also reported more than 1,000 detentions, citing police. In previous mass detentions, many people were released after being held for several hours. The Moscow police had earlier said they had made 295 arrests, the Associated Press reported, but did not offer a final number.

Police also stormed a TV studio belonging to Navalny that was live-streaming the protests on YouTube, and arrested Vladimir Milono, who was in charge of the program. Navalny previously ran unsuccessfully for mayor of Moscow in 2013.

A number of opposition politicians were banned from the ballot for the September city legislative vote after election officials claimed they had not gathered enough signatures to qualify. But their supporters say the government is intentionally boxing them out from participating in the elections to maintain the council’s status quo. Moscow’s city council has 45 seats and is controlled by a pro-Kremlin party.

The fight over the council is emblematic of political tests across Russia for President Vladimir Putin, such as municipal elections and challenges over building projects. While the outcomes do not directly threaten Putin’s grip on the country, they serve as rallying points for opposition groups that have faced relentless pressure from the Kremlin.

Last weekend, more than 22,000 people gathered for a protest in downtown Moscow in the largest such demonstration in years. This week, protesters chanted “Russia will be free,” the AP reported.

Photos from the scene show police in riot gear detaining protesters and beating them with batons.

The rallies involved just a tiny fraction of the 13 million people who live in the city, and it was business as usual in much of the center on a balmy July afternoon. But the recent protests represented perhaps the biggest anti-government groundswell in the Russian capital in recent years.

The main target of the protesters’ ire was Moscow Mayor Sergey Sobyanin, a close ally of Putin’s.

The protests are the latest sign that Russians are becoming increasingly vocal about their frustrations, even if their numbers are still far too few to pose an immediate challenge to Putin’s power. The demonstrations are driven, analysts say, by concerns as varied as economic stagnation, government cutbacks, corruption and Putin’s increasingly authoritarian rule.

Earlier this summer, protesters took to the streets in Moscow in support of Ivan Golunov, an investigative journalist who was framed for drug crimes by the police and then released amid public outrage. Across Russia, meanwhile, people have loudly protested over local issues in recent months, including the construction of a cathedral in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg and a plan for a new landfill in the far north.

O’Grady reported from Washington.