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Russian opposition leader among nearly 1,600 arrested amid anti-Putin protests

Russian opposition leader among nearly 1,600 arrested amid anti-Putin protests
Russian police detain a protester at a demonstration against President Vladimir Putin in Moscow's Pushkin Square on Saturday. (Associated Press)

Russians angered by the impending inauguration of Vladimir Putin to a new term as president protested Saturday in scores of cities across the country — and police responded by reportedly arresting nearly 1,600.

Among those arrested was protest organizer Alexei Navalny, the anti-corruption campaigner who is Putin's most prominent foe. Police seized Navalny by the arms and legs and carried the thrashing activist from Moscow's Pushkin Square, where thousands were gathered for an unauthorized protest.

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Police also used batons against protesters who chanted "Putin is a thief!" and "Russia will be free!"

Demonstrations under the slogan "He is not our czar" took place throughout the country, from Yakutsk in the far northeast to St. Petersburg and Kaliningrad on the fringes of Europe.

"I think that Putin isn't worthy of leading this country. He has been doing it for 18 years and has done nothing good for it," said Moscow demonstrator Dmitry Nikitenko. "He should leave for good."

OVD-Info, an organization that monitors political repression, said late Saturday that 1,599 people had been detained at demonstrations in 26 Russian cities. It said 702 were arrested in Moscow alone, and another 232 in St. Petersburg.

Moscow police said about 300 people were detained in the capital, state news agencies said, and there was no official countrywide tally.

"Let my son go!" Iraida Nikolaeva screamed, running after the Moscow police who detained him. "He did not do anything! Are you a human or not? Do you live in Russia or not?"

Putin is to be inaugurated for a six-year term on Monday after winning reelection in March with 77% of the vote. Navalny had hoped to challenge him on the ballot but was blocked because of a felony conviction in a case that supporters regard as falsified in order to marginalize him.

Navalny has called nationwide demonstrations several times in the past year, and their turnout has rattled the Kremlin.

Saturday's protests attracted crowds of hundreds in cities that are far remote from Moscow, challenging authorities' contention that Navalny and other opposition figures appeal only to a small, largely urban elite.

UPDATES:

7 p.m.: This article was updated to report that nearly 1,600 people were arrested in protests across Russia against President Vladimir Putin.

This article was originally published at 9:45 a.m.

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