Helmeted police in green camouflage and interior ministry troops deployed in force for an event that was organised through the internet after a rare thousands-strong protest on Monday startled the authorities.
Opposition supporters shouted “Shame on you fascists!” and “Russia without Putin” in a tense stand-off with hundreds of pro-Kremlin youth who descended on the site in advance.
Those detained in Moscow included former cabinet minister turned Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov – released after being booked at a police station – and several other members of opposition groups that were barred from running in the polls.
A Moscow police spokesman said 250 people had been thrown into waiting vans and taken to various police stations about two hours into the event. Interfax cited a security source as saying 300 had been detained.
European Parliament president Jerzy Buzek slammed the “detention of dozens of protesting opposition activists, intimidation against the independent election watchdog Golos and the cyber attacks against leading independent news websites.”
France on Tuesday also expressed concern with foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero underscoring that Paris “attaches the greatest importance to the right to demonstrate peacefully.”
Europe’s top diplomat Catherine Ashton said in a statement: “Reports of procedural violations, such as
lack of media impartiality, lack of separation between party and state, and the harassments of independent monitoring attempts, are ... of serious concern.”
She urged Russian authorities to address the issues “to allow for smooth and fair presidential elections in the spring.”
The elections Sunday which saw Prime Minister Putin’s ruling party return to power with a sharply reduced majority were marred by “frequent procedural violations and instances of apparent manipulation,” according to the Organisation of Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Police in Putin’s native city of Saint Petersburg reported making around 200 arrests. The private Dozhd (Rain) television station said 50 towns and cities had seen protests in all – most of them in the central Volga region.
Riot police on Monday had also detained 300 people who included prominent activist Ilya Yashin and opposition blogger Alexei Navalny. A court found both guilty on Tuesday of disobeying police orders and jailed them
for 15 days.