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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Ministry Condones Police Response

ReutersInterior Ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin speaking to reporters during a news briefing on Saturday afternoon.
The Interior Ministry on Saturday came out in defense of the riot police who broke up the Dissenters' Marches in Moscow and St. Petersburg on April 14 and 15.

"The police did everything possible not to give in to provocations and acted according to the situation," ministry spokesman Valery Gribakin told reporters.

Gribakin said protesters had faked injuries to attract the attention of foreign journalists and deliberately provoked the police.

"We truly regret if any innocent civilians or journalists became the victims of provocateurs," Gribakin said.

Riot police violently dispersed the unsanctioned marches, which were organized by The Other Russia, a coalition of opposition groups. Hundreds were arrested and many beaten in both Moscow and St. Petersburg.

More than 9,000 officers policed the Moscow march, which attracted 2,000 to 3,000 people. A number of journalists were arrested and some beaten as they covered the march.

Gribakin said police had the power to arrest people for taking part in unsanctioned meetings and that they had warned the crowd using loudspeakers before arresting anyone.

The Other Russia had permission for a meeting on Chistoprudny Bulvar. Gribakin said, however, that the group exceeded the maximum turnout specified in its permit from the city.

Opposition leaders and human rights groups have criticized the police response.

After initially supporting the police, the Kremlin also criticized the police for "some overreaction."

"There was only one extremist on the streets of Moscow on April 14 and that was the government and its law enforcement officers," former chess champion Garry Kasparov said Saturday, The Associated Press reported.

Kasparov's United Civil Front took part in the march.

"All the police claims about acts of violence, of violation of some rules of law … are totally false," he said.

Gribakin said the provocateurs had come to Moscow from other cities and even countries, and that "sturdily built" men were specially chosen to cause trouble.

He showed a police video of the St. Petersburg march and another demonstration in Nizhny Novgorod last month to illustrate his points, but the footage drew only laughter from reporters.

Gribakin did not show any footage from the march in Moscow, apart from an excerpt from an NTV television news program in which a man hiding his face said he had been offered $100 to pretend that he had been beaten at the march by smearing his T-shirt with ketchup.

"Their job was to fall down after any contact with police to draw the attention of passersby and the media," Gribakin said.

Gribakin promised that accusations against the police would be investigated, and asked for journalists to provide the authorities with video evidence.