Opposition Leader Arrested at Anti-Putin Rally

Posted December 15th, 2012 at 9:00 am (UTC-5)
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At least four prominent Russian opposition figures have been arrested in conjunction with an anti-government rally in Moscow, as protesters commemorate a year of rallies against President Vladimir Putin.

Police arrested leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov and Alexei Navalny at the rally, as well as activists Ilya Yashin and Ksenia Sobchak. The detainees tweeted about their arrest while being held at the site.

Meanwhile, thousands of people are gathered despite freezing cold and a heavy police presence in Moscow's Lubyanka Square, near the headquarters of Russia's Federal Security Service, successor to the Soviet Union's intelligence service the KGB.

The square is also home to the Solovetsky Stone, a monument to victims of political repression during the Soviet era. Many protesters brought flowers to place on the stone in tribute to those victims.

The city of Moscow had denied a permit for the Saturday rally, but protesters gathered anyway — albeit fewer than the massive rallies organized one year ago to protest Mr. Putin's increasing influence over the Russian government.

Also Saturday, opposition groups created a new party called The People's Alliance, in an attempt to galvanize critics of the Moscow government.

President Putin has held the top two spots in Russian government — president and prime minister — for more than a decade, swapping the top posts with his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev. Mr. Putin won a third term as president earlier this year. Since then, the Russian parliament has swiftly passed a raft of laws cracking down on freedom of speech and freedom of assembly, and designating some international nongovernmental organizations.

On Friday, Russian authorities launched a criminal investigation into prominent opposition activist Alexei Navalny for suspected fraud and money laundering.

Officials say Navalny is being investigated for the alleged theft of $1.8 million from one of his companies.

Russian authorities already have another financial case open against Navalny. Investigators said earlier this year they suspect he played a part in a scheme to steal assets from a state timber company — totaling about $500,000 — while he was advising a local governor in 2009.

Navalny has rejected the charges, which carry a 10-year prison sentence.