- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2007

MOSCOW — Police detained Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who now leads one of Russia’s strongest opposition movements, and at least 100 activists yesterday as they gathered for a forbidden anti-Kremlin demonstration in central Moscow.

About 200 Kasparov supporters later gathered outside the police station where he was being held, shouting “freedom for political prisoners.” After about an hour, police waded into the crowd, beating some demonstrators with truncheons and kicking them, and offering sarcastic good wishes as the crowd scattered.

Police said about 170 people had been detained, but a Kasparov aide, Marina Litvinovich, said as many as 600 were — although about half were released quickly. Mr. Kasparov, who witnesses said was seized as he tried to lead a small group of demonstrators through lines of police ringing the square, was freed late yesterday after he was fined $38 for participating in the rally.

“It is no longer a country … where the government tries to pretend it is playing by the letter and spirit of the law,” Mr. Kasparov said outside the court building, appearing unfazed by his detention.

“We now stand somewhere between Belarus and Zimbabwe,” he said.

The demonstration, one in a series of so-called Dissenters’ Marches, increased tension between opposition supporters who complain the Kremlin is cracking down on political dissent and authorities who vow to block any unauthorized demonstrations. A similar march planned for St. Petersburg today also has been banned.

Since the first such march in December, Mr. Kasparov has emerged as one of President Vladimir Putin’s most prominent critics.

He has vowed to accelerate his protest actions as presidential and parliamentary elections approach. Mr. Kasparov’s United Civil Front organization works with other opposition groups in a loose alliance called Other Russia, which organized the marches.

After his detention, he waved and smiled from a police van and did not appear to have been hurt. Police department spokesman Yevgeny Gildeyev said Mr. Kasparov was detained on suspicion of calling for provocation. Mr. Gildeyev said about 170 people were detained at the square.

City authorities gave permission to Other Russia to hold a rally at Turgenev Square, but denied their request to gather at the more central and prominent Pushkin Square, one of Moscow’s best-known public spaces. Other Russia defied the ban and declared it would march from Pushkin Square to the other square, about a mile away.

Police detained scores of activists at Pushkin Square, but thousands of others began marching. More than 1,000 gathered at the authorized rally site.

Among them was Mikhail Kasyanov, who was Mr. Putin’s first prime minister but now has gone into opposition.

“Everyone should ask the question: What is happening with our authorities — are they still sane, or have they gone mad?” Mr. Kasyanov said as the crowd chanted, “Shame on the government.”

Andrei Illarionov, a former Kremlin economic adviser who came to support the demonstrators, told journalists that the heavy police presence showed “paranoia — there is no rational explanation for this behavior.”

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who was observing the march, denied there were political motivations behind the ban, saying similar marches in support of Mr. Putin also have been banned.

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