Opposition Ignores 'Farce' and Plans Marches

MTOMON officers detaining Oleg Vasilyev, in glasses, and two other Oborona members Sunday on Manezh Square.
Former chess champion and opposition leader Garry Kasparov wandered around Manezh Square to protest elections that he called a "farce" on Sunday, an otherwise quiet day for the opposition.

OMON riot police, who tracked Kasparov's entourage and at one point denied him entry to Red Square, detained several youths who were also protesting after Kasparov had left.

"I categorically object to the use of the word 'elections' and I call upon all of the media not to refer to this farce as such," said a visibly relaxed Kasparov in fluent English, standing in front of a barrage of mainly foreign media cameras and reporters.

Kasparov called on U.S. President George W. Bush, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown and French President Nicolas Sarkozy to "refrain from legitimizing the winner by calling to congratulate him."

Riot police were allowing the public onto Red Square via a narrow gate until Kasparov approached. They shut the gate and told Kasparov he would not be allowed to pass "on orders from above," Kasparov said.

He later unsuccessfully tried to gain entry to the square by buying a ticket to the State Historical Museum, the entrance to which lay beyond the police gate.

Also tailing Kasparov were Oleg Vasilyev, 21, and Ivan Afonin, 18, members of the opposition youth group Oborona. They had brought their ballot forms from Polling Station No. 2074, where President Vladimir Putin voted Sunday.

After Kasparov had left, Vasilyev and Afonin, among others, headed peacefully toward the Okhotny Ryad underground shopping center.

OMON officers grabbed them on the steps leading down into the center. After a short struggle, they were pushed to the ground, later to be carried to nearby police buses.

Law enforcement officials in plain clothes pushed a Moscow Times photographer away, threatening arrest if he continued to photograph the detentions.

Neither Vasilyev nor Afonin could be reached for comment later.

Vladimir Korobkov, a city police spokesman, said he had not heard of the detentions on Manezh Square.

"Everything has been quiet so far," Korobkov said.

Kasparov, a leader of the Other Russia coalition -- which is holding Dissenters' Marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg on Monday -- was the only high-profile opposition activist to take to the streets Sunday.

Former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov, a vocal opposition figure, did not go to the polls. His spokeswoman, Yelena Dikun, said Sunday that he would neither spoil his ballot nor attend Monday's rally because it came after the vote and therefore could not influence it.

John Wendle / MT
Garry Kasparov leaving after being denied entry to Red Square on Sunday.
"The result doesn't matter as this is an illegitimate transfer of power," Kasyanov said in comments relayed by Dikun on Sunday.

Union of Right Forces leader Nikita Belykh, along with Kasparov, submitted a petition to the Central Elections Commission on Saturday bearing the signatures of 50,000 people who vowed to stay at home Sunday. Belykh said Saturday that he would be at Monday's rally in a private capacity.

Boris Nemtsov, a Union of Right Forces leader before he suspended his party membership last month because of a report he published criticizing Putin's eight-year reign, flew out of the country Saturday on a personal visit. Nemtsov said in an interview Friday that he would not attend the rally Monday.

Nemtsov and Belykh were present at Dissenters' Marches ahead of December's State Duma vote.

Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky spent Sunday preparing for university lectures he was to give next week, said his spokeswoman, Yevgenia Dillendorf.

Kasparov is planning to head to the rally in St. Petersburg on Monday, because city authorities have allowed it to go ahead. Moscow authorities have not sanctioned a rally, though one is scheduled regardless.

Alexander Averin, a member of the banned National Bolshevik Party, said he expected several thousand protesters at the Moscow rally, slated for 5 p.m. on Turgenev Square.

Korobkov, the police spokesman, said the rally had been "forbidden."

"The police are obligated to intercept any attempt to hold a march," Korobkov said.

Police had reported no incidents at any Moscow polling station as of 6 p.m.

At the Central Elections Commission, First Deputy Interior Minister Alexander Chekalin said at a news conference before voting had closed that "no violations or crimes have been reported."

"Law enforcement bodies have maintained complete law and order and public safety," Chekalin said.