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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

U.S. Criticizes Crackdown On Nizhny Novgorod Rally

The U.S. State Department has expressed alarm over "Russian government heavy-handedness" against protesters who tried to hold an anti-Kremlin march in Nizhny Novgorod.

State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Monday in Washington that authorities' prevention of the march "raises serious concerns about Russians' ability to exercise their rights to assembly, free speech and peaceful protest."

The protesters tried to rally without official permission in the central Gorky Square on Saturday. Hundreds of riot police in full gear cordoned off the area, and about 100 people were detained.

Casey noted that opposition parties had faced trouble getting onto the ballot in regional legislative elections this month. Some were barred altogether. "Our concerns are intensified by the difficulties that opposition political parties face in trying to register to participate in elections," he said. "We call upon all Russian authorities to respect fully international standards involving freedom of press, speech, and assembly."

Meanwhile, Russian and international activists warned on Tuesday that Soviet-style restrictions on freedom of speech and expression were multiplying.

"The actions of the police ... remind one of the intolerance of political pluralism that existed here in the Soviet Union," said Aaron Rhodes, executive director of the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation.

In a letter to the country's ombudsman, rights activists said the breakup of demonstrations such as the one in Nizhny Novgorod were blatantly illegal.

They also quoted Putin as saying earlier this month, "If some quantity of dissenters want to hold a march, no one has the right to deprive them of this right."

"A legal question arises: to what extent is policy in the country determined by the guarantees of the Constitution and to what extent by law enforcement agencies and local governments?" said the letter, signed by Moscow Helsinki Group head Lyudmila Alexeyeva, For Human Rights chief Lev Ponomaryev and 18 other activists.

AP, MT