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Putin moves against Kasparov and the 'white knight' revolution

London Independent | April 15, 2007
Andrew Osborn

A protest staged by opponents of President Vladimir Putin in the heart of Moscow was broken up by thousands of baton-wielding riot police yesterday and one of the event's main organisers, former world chess champion Garry Kasparov, detained.

The protesters, who numbered up to 2,000 people, ignored a warning not to march from Moscow's central Pushkin Square to another square after their application to do so was rejected. They argued that free speech was more important, and the response from thousands of camouflage-clad riot policemen wearing full body armour was immediate.

Within 10 minutes, Mr Kasparov, one of Mr Putin's fiercest critics, was detained then whisked away to a police station. Up to 200 anti-Putin activists shared a similar fate and were bundled into police vans, at times with extreme force.

Appearing briefly outside a central Moscow court after being charged with public order offences Kasparov later said: "Today the regime showed its true colours, its true face."

He said protesters had been beaten throughout the day. "There was simply a criminal attack by people in riot-police uniforms on Russian citizens who were just walking along," he said. "Every possible violation has been committed, from the moment we were grabbed up to this court."

The protesters, part of the Another Russia movement, were drawn from disparate political groupings including liberals and nationalist radicals; all of them called themselves "dissenters".

They are united by one thing: an implacable opposition to Mr Putin whom they accuse of stifling freedom of speech and moving the country in an increasingly authoritarian direction. Among the marchers was former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov and outspoken former presidential adviser Andrei Illarionov.

The demonstration comes at a time of rising tension on Russia's Kremlin-controlled political scene. The country faces crunch parliamentary elections in December, and in March of next year Mr Putin is due to step down and hand the reins of power to someone else in his inner circle. Aware that presidential elections occur only every four years, the opposition is desperately trying to galvanise its supporters.

Sitting in self-imposed exile in the UK with hundreds of millions of pounds in his war chest, controversial oligarch Boris Berezovsky is trying to lend a hand. Last week he drew a furious response from the Kremlin when he said he was plotting to overthrow Mr Putin using force and was financing shadowy political forces opposed to the Russian President. His statements are being studied by Scotland Yard and the Foreign Office to ascertain whether he broke UK law.

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