MOSCOW -- Russian police cracked down fiercely Saturday on demonstrators in central Moscow, beating some people and arresting more than 1,000 who were protesting the exclusion of opposition candidates from the ballot for Moscow's City Council. Police also stormed into a TV station broadcasting the protest.
Police wrestled with protesters around the mayor's office, sometimes charging into the crowd with their batons raised. State news agencies Tass and RIA-Novosti cited police as saying 1,074 were arrested over the course of the protests, which lasted more than seven hours.
Along with the arrests of the mostly young demonstrators, several opposition activists who wanted to run for the council were arrested throughout the city before the protest. Alexei Navalny, Russia's most prominent opposition figure, was sentenced Wednesday to 30 days in jail for calling an unauthorized protest.
The spark for Saturday's protest was a decision by election authorities to bar several opposition candidates from running, asserting that they had falsified signatures on petitions to run, which the candidates denied doing.
The protesters, who police said numbered about 3,500, shouted slogans including "Russia will be free!" and "Who are you beating?"
"It is horrible. My feeling is that we live under an occupation," said Nadezhda Pilinskaya, 59, referring to the heavy police presence in the city center. "They fear that the end is coming, the end of this regime."
Pilinskaya, a retired entrepreneur, added, "We will have nobody to choose from on election day."
Protesters say that without opposition candidates, the coming city election is rigged. Some protesters chanted, "Where is my signature?" Others yelled, "Where is my candidate?"
Police could be seen spraying some demonstrators with a chemical irritant. One woman, Aleksandra Parushina, bled from her head after being hit by a nightstick.
"None of us was breaking the law. This situation was provoked by the police," said Parushina, her head wrapped in a blood-soaked bandage. "I even lost consciousness for a minute," she said while awaiting an ambulance.
Police stormed a TV studio belonging to Navalny that was live-streaming the protests on YouTube, and arrested Vladimir Milonov, who was in charge of the program. Navalny ran for mayor of Moscow in 2013, but lost.
Police also searched Dozhd, an Internet TV station that was covering the protest, and its editor-in-chief, Alexandra Perepelova, was ordered to undergo questioning at the Investigative Committee.
Police eventually dispersed protesters from the area of the mayor's office, but many demonstrators reassembled at a square about a half-mile away, where new arrests began, with police beating some to the ground with wide truncheon swings while other demonstrators tried to push them away.
Before the protest, several opposition members were detained, including Ilya Yashin, Dmitry Gudkov, Lyubov Sobol and top Navalny associate Ivan Zhdanov.
A post on the Facebook page of Yashin, a street activist and one of the politicians who was barred from running, said 10 masked police officers had removed him from his apartment in Moscow overnight before the Saturday demonstration.
All detained opposition members were released later in the day; Zhdanov and Sobol went to the relocated protest and were detained again.
There was no immediate information on what charges the detainees might face.
Once a local, low-key affair, the September vote for Moscow's council has shaken up Russia's political scene as the Kremlin struggles with how to deal with strongly opposing views in its sprawling capital of 12.6 million people.
The council, which has 45 seats, is responsible for a large municipal budget and is now controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its seats, which have a five-year-term, are up for grabs in the Sept. 8 vote.
The protest, which was not authorized by the government, was the latest in a series of street demonstrations staged as Putin's approval ratings have dipped as the economy has faltered.
Moscow police said that 3,500 people turned out for Saturday's rally, including about 700 journalists and bloggers who had registered beforehand. The number could not be independently verified.
Last Saturday, more than 22,000 people gathered for a protest in downtown Moscow in the largest such demonstration in years.
Even before the election dispute, protests had broken out in provincial cities as Russia's economy swoons under Western sanctions. Street actions began over bread-and-butter issues such as the placement of garbage dumps and the dismal wages of medical workers, which highlight growing frustration over gloomy standards of living.
While the near-weekly demonstrations in the capital and other cities have pierced the image of unified support for Putin, the scale of support for such rallies is unclear.
The protests are the latest sign that Russians are becoming increasingly vocal in voicing their frustration, 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 everything from economic stagnation and anger over government cutbacks and corruption to a rejection of Putin's increasingly authoritarian rule.
Information for this article was contributed by Jim Heintz of The Associated Press; by Ivan Nechepurenko of The New York Times; and by Anton Troianovski and Siobhan O'Grady of The Washington Post.
An ice cream vendor waits near a line of police officers blocking protesters Saturday during a rally in the center of Moscow. More than 1,000 people were arrested in a violent crackdown during a demonstration over the exclusion of opposition candidates in the races for Moscow city council.
Police officers grapple with a protester Saturday in Moscow. The protesters, who police said numbered about 3,500, shouted slogans including “Russia will be free!” and “Who are you beating?”
A Section on 07/28/2019
Print Headline: Election protesters in Moscow beaten, 1,000 arrested