MOSCOW - A day before Vladimir Putins official inauguration as president of Russia for the third time protesters took to the streets of Moscow in what was billed as a March of the Millions. The crowd didnt reach a million, though accurate estimates of how many people did show up are impossible to come by. Organizers say as many as 200,000 demonstrated. Police put the figure at just 8,000.
By the end of the day, 570 protesters had been arrested and hundreds injured. One of the photographers at the event died when he tried too hard to get a good picture and fell from the fifth floor of a nearby apartment building. And yet not a single state-owned television channel interrupted its weekend programming to report on the protests. At the same time, several Russian media websites, including Kommersant, were off-line due to denial of service attacks that lasted all day Sunday.
The March of the Millions began at Kaluzhskaya Square. It was supposed to end at Bolotnaya square. But it quickly became clear that the protest would not be entirely peaceful. At the very beginning, police officers very slowly forced the whole crowd to go through metal detectors. The opposition protesters marched peacefully along the street, but a bottleneck formed on the steps leading to Bolotnaya square, where protesters overturned several metal detectors and tried to break through the chains set up by police.
Like something out of Star Wars
Sergei Udaltsov and Aleksei Navalny, two of the march organizers, accused the regime of trying to break up the protest. The two men sat down on the sidewalk and encouraged others to follow their example. The sitting strikers said they intended to wait 12 hours, until Putins inauguration on Monday morning, which they consider to be illegal. The protesters also demanded air time on a live television broadcast.
A part of the crowd broke through the police barriers and headed towards the Kremlin, but they were headed off before arriving. The number of police officers, military and special security forces around Bolotnaya square surprised even the journalists, who compared the scenes to something from Star Wars. Stones, flares, bottles and even chunks of sidewalk flew from the crowd at the guards. In response, the police began to brutally beat protesters with batons and to spray tear gas at the crowd.
Protesters attempted to continue on to Bolotnaya square in spite of the clashes with police. However, the car with all the technical equipment was not allowed to approach the stage, and Sergei Udaltsov and Boris Nemtsov were arrested in the middle of their speeches. Nearly 30 police officers were injured during the forced dispersal of the protesters.
Later on Sunday, Putins press secretary announced on television that the police had been too soft on the protesters. As a Muscovite, I would have liked for the police to have acted much more harshly, he said.
Read the original article in Russian
Photo - Varlamov