Police Detain Many At Moscow Opposition Protest
Riot police officers detain women during an unsanctioned rally urging fair elections at Moscow’s Pushkinskaya Square on August 3, 2019. Alexander NEMENOV / AFP

Over 800 people at an opposition gathering in Moscow on Saturday have been detained by the Police as authorities upped the pressure on top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny by launching a criminal probe into his anti-graft group.

Crowds walked along the capital’s central boulevards in a protest “stroll” over the refusal by officials to let opposition candidates run in September polls for city parliament seats — a local issue that has turned into a political crisis.

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Most of those candidates and opposition leaders, including Navalny, are being held by police following a protest rally last weekend, in which 1,400 demonstrators were detained — one of the biggest crackdowns in years.

On Saturday, riot police were deployed in large numbers in central Moscow, some shops and cafes were shut, metal barriers were erected, mobile internet was down for many hours, and a metro station was temporarily closed.

Some 828 people were detained during the rally, independent protest monitor OVD-Info said.

Police said only 1,500 people took part in the gathering.

According to AFP, the turnout was likely in the thousands but a precise estimate was difficult as the protest was spread over several neighbourhoods.

AFP observed dozens of arrests along the route of the protest, as police formed human chains and grabbed people indiscriminately.

“They came and took seven people right in front of me,” said 50-year-old Olga Yakovleva sitting on a bench on a square along the protest route. “I lost the power of speech… it was just people sitting and talking.”

Lyubov Sobol, an ally of key opposition leader Navalny and currently three weeks into a hunger strike after being barred from taking part in the election, was dragged from a taxi and detained as she set off for the rally.