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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Kasparov Misses Plane to Samara

ReutersOpposition activists marching Saturday in Samara. Two reporters and two activists were detained before the march.
Police stopped opposition activists Garry Kasparov and Eduard Limonov and a group of journalists from boarding a flight to Samara for a sanctioned protest Friday.

In Samara, police prevented two activists and two reporters, including Kasparov's associate Denis Bilunov and Boris Reitschuster of the German magazine Focus, from attending the Dissenters' March, which was held peacefully Friday afternoon.

On Saturday, a Dissenters' March was held in Chelyabinsk without incident after local radio stations warned residents to stay away.

"I am lost for words," Kasparov said by telephone moments after being released by police at Sheremetyevo Airport on Friday. "This is a flagrant violation of the law."

Passengers, including Kasparov and Limonov, arrived at the Sheremetyevo-1 terminal at around 8 a.m. for their 9 a.m. flight, Kasparov and other people said.

After they handed over their documents to check in for the flight, Kasparov, Limonov and least 20 others were told by airline personnel that there was a problem with their tickets, and that they would have to check in on the second floor.

Kasparov and a Reuters producer said police had a list of people they were singling out.

Police waiting on the second floor told the passengers that their tickets might be counterfeit. Everyone was required to identify the travel agency through which they had bought the ticket, Kasparov said.

It was 1:25 p.m. by the time all the documents had been returned, Kasparov said, which meant it was too late to make the last flight of the day, which took off at 1:30 p.m.

An Interior Ministry spokesman disagreed with Kasparov's account. "Everyone's documents were checked and handed back at 12 p.m., which left the passengers plenty of time to make the second flight," the spokesman said on condition of anonymity.

He said police had received information that several of the tickets might be counterfeit. "It turned out the tickets were genuine," he added.

Kasparov said he had asked for and received an official police statement that there were no flights left when the documents were returned.

Limonov, a co-founder of the banned National Bolshevik Party, said Federal Security Service officers were waiting at the Samara airport to detain him and others had they made it that far. "This wave of provocation bears all the hallmarks of fascism," he said.

About 100 protesters gathered in a central Samara square for the march at about 5 p.m. Friday. They were far outnumbered by police and spectators. As the marchers headed to a bank of the Volga River, they waved the black, yellow and white flags of The Other Russia and shouted, "We need another Russia!" and "Down with the police state!"

The Dissenters' March is the brainchild of The Other Russia opposition coalition, headed by Kasparov, Limonov and former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.

Samara officials sanctioned the march after prodding from the European Union. More than a dozen people who helped organize the march have been detained briefly by police in the two weeks leading up to the event.

Bilunov, a member of Kasparov's United Civil Front, was temporarily detained upon his arrival in Samara from Moscow on Thursday afternoon. Police confiscated 95,000 rubles ($3,700) that he had brought to pay for the demonstrators' expenses, claiming that it might be counterfeit and needed to be examined, Bilunov said by telephone Sunday. Bilunov said he is still waiting for the money to be returned to him.

Bilunov was detained again before the march began Friday. Plainclothes police officers put him in a Lada sedan, said Reitschuster, who heads the Moscow bureau of the Focus weekly and was standing near Bilunov while waiting for the march to begin.

Then police officers approached Reitschuster.

"When I produced my accreditation from the Foreign Ministry, a policeman called his superiors and asked, 'There is a journalist, a foreigner. What shall we do? Detain him anyway?'" said Reitschuster, who last fall published a critical book on Russian politics under President Vladimir Putin.

Bilunov and Reitschuster were taken to a police station along with freelance regional television journalist Dmitry Toropov and Stanislav Yakovlev of the youth movement Smena, Reitschuster said. They were released almost two hours later, after the march had ended.

"When I asked them about the reason for my detention, an officer told me, "Let's say that you resemble the wanted photo of a criminal," Reitschuster said.

Among the reasons police have offered for detentions in the days before the Dissenters' March have been: carrying grenades; being similar in appearance to a bank card fraudster; pasting flyers in the wrong place; carrying counterfeit cash; and carrying counterfeit tickets.

None of the detentions has resulted in any arrests.

In Chelyabinsk, dozens of people gathered for a sanctioned Dissenters' March on Saturday that was heckled by about 200 young people carrying posters reading, "Society of Glamorous Gymnasts" and shouting, "We dissent the arrival of winter," Interfax reported. Police put the number of protesters at 50, while organizers said it was closer to 150.

In the days leading up to the march, Chelyabinsk radio stations warned residents against attending and television stations were banned from filming it, Reuters reported, citing march organizer Kirill Shtifonov.

Shtifonov said the radio stations had broadcast messages from city and military authorities that anyone turning up for the protest would be called up by the army.