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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Liberal March Violently Dispersed

APLocal lawmaker Mikhail Amosov, left, and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov rallying Saturday in St. Petersburg.
ST. PETERSBURG -- Truncheon-wielding police Saturday violently dispersed an unauthorized opposition rally in St. Petersburg, rounding up and beating dozens of activists and detaining several organizers.

Despite the detentions, opposition figures praised the so-called March of Those Who Disagree by members of liberal and leftist groups as a major success, saying the event attracted several thousand people despite alleged intimidation from the authorities -- an unusually high turnout for the country's beleaguered and often fractious opposition.

More than 3,000 activists, according to Associated Press estimates, chanted "Shame!" as they marched down the city's main avenue to protest what they said was the government's retreat from democracy under President Vladimir Putin. Garry Kasparov, the former world chess champion who helped organize the event, said on Ekho Moskvy radio that the participants numbered up to 6,000.

City authorities had banned the march, granting permission only to hold a rally in a location far from the city center. But the activists defied the ban and marched toward and then down Nevsky Prospekt, blocking traffic there.

Riot police detained and clubbed dozens of protesters in an attempt to stop the march and disperse the activists, but the demonstrators broke through the cordons, marched toward the center and rallied for about 40 minutes until police moved in again, detaining scores of others.

Eduard Limonov, head of the unregistered National Bolshevik Party, and independent city legislator Sergei Gulyayev were among the organizers detained.

Police beat protesters with truncheons and dragged them into detention buses. Several activists also attacked a law enforcement officer.

Interfax, citing police officials, reported that 113 activists were detained. Some of the detainees were later taken to a local court and were expected to face trial.

The activists held banners "Russia Without Putin," "We Are for Justice" and "Take Elections Back."

They called for the ousting of St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko, a close ally of the president, accusing her of corruption and incompetence.

"The authorities are destroying ... the constitutional structure, rights and freedoms," said former Primer Minister Mikhail Kasyanov. "Unfortunately we are going through a very difficult time in our country, but we will continue to fight for our rights."

The protest took place before March 11 elections to the Legislative Assembly, in which the Yabloko party, one of the country's two main liberal parties, was kicked off the ballot for what the party said were groundless technical reasons.

The activists accused authorities of cracking down on the opposition, stifling freedom of speech and eating away at democratic institutions by abolishing direct elections of regional leaders and creating an obedient parliament.