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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Europe Voices Concern About Police Violence

APIzvestia's photo of Kasparov being detained Saturday appeared in many publications worldwide but not in Izvestia.
The European Union on Monday voiced concern over what it called excessive force used by police to break up demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg over the weekend, while Germany said it would ask the Russian government to explain the crackdown.

EU spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann said the European Commission was "very concerned about the events involving the Russian police," referring to the response to opposition rallies held in the two cities over the weekend.

Dozens of activists were beaten and detained, including Russian and foreign journalists.

Hohmann said the EU would press Russian officials on the issues of democratic freedoms and human rights when EU foreign ministers meet Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Luxembourg next week.

A spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Monday that the arrest of foreign journalists was "unacceptable."

"This form of excessive violence ... is worrying, and assaults on members of the media who are carrying out their job in keeping with our understanding of freedom of the press and information are unacceptable," Thomas Steg said.

"We expect an explanation from the Russian government as to what happened over the weekend," Steg said.

The Kremlin responded by defending the actions of police, saying they were trying to stop "ultraradicals" from violating law and order.

"Taking into account previous experience of actions by the ultraradicals, the main objective pursued by the police was to ensure law and order during the conduct of these events," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

"The participants of these rallies did not always stick to the parameters which were set for them when they were given permission [to hold the rallies]. That was the reason for those measures that were taken by the police," Peskov said.

U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday that Washington was monitoring the situation."It was clearly a peaceful protest," he said of Sunday's demonstration in St. Petersburg. "It raises a question about whether or not those opposition figures are able to freely express their opinions."

Human rights ombudsman Vladimir Lukin voiced concern about the police response and vowed to act if activists involved in the demonstrations filed grievances with his office.

"What I saw on television gave me the impression that some representatives of the law enforcement agencies seriously abused their authority," Lukin told Interfax.

Moscow police spokesman Gennady Bogachyov said he had no information about police violence or illegal detentions during the Dissenters' March.

Independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said he was collecting complaints, including photographs and video footage of police violence, and that he would forward them to the Prosecutor General's Office and the Interior Ministry.

Ryzhkov also said he would request that Interior Minister Rashid Nurgaliyev conduct an internal investigation into police conduct at the rallies.

About 4,000 people took part in Saturday's rallies in Moscow, which were organized by The Other Russia, a coalition of opposition groups.

Police said some 170 people had been detained, including Garry Kasparov, head of the United Civil Front, who was released shortly afterward.

An estimated 3,000 activists turned out for the Dissenters' March in St. Petersburg. Police said 120 people had been detained.

Police in the northern capital have denied using excessive force.

National media carried reports of violence against several journalists, including some wearing special green jackets issued by St. Petersburg authorities to help police distinguish members of the press during demonstrations.

Mayor Yury Luzhkov made no comment on the rallies, but St. Petersburg Governor Valentina Matviyenko called together the city's top law enforcement officials and demanded that all citizens' complaints about police violence be investigated.

Most national newspapers prominently featured their coverage of the rallies with front-page photographs. Izvestia, however, did not publish a news story or photographs of the events.

But the newspaper, which is owned by Gazprom-Media, did sell a photograph of Kasparov being detained to The Associated Press. The photograph, shot by an Izvestia staff photographer, found its way into publications around the world, and appeared on the front page of The New York Times' web site Saturday evening.

Alexei Belyanchev, Izvestia's photo editor, defended the decision not to publish this or any other pictures of the marches while selling the picture of Kasparov to the AP. "We were just helping our colleagues at The Associated Press, who needed a photo. We didn't publish it ourselves because we decided that it had been talked about enough by Monday," he said.

MT, AP, Reuters