August 20, 2014 16:38

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"March of Millions" turns into clashes with riot police – report update

6.05.12 21:06    By Viktor Sumskoi, Ekaterina Savina, edited by Semyon Kvasha


Photo: ITAR-TASS


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From the very beginning, the March of millions was a nervous event. Even before the march, many large liberal media sites: Echo Moscow radio station, Kommersant daily, and Dozhd TV channel, were subjected to DDOS-attacks. Authorities closed nine metro stations in the center of the city. Adding to the tension, the Moscow military commissariat confirmed it would issue draft summons to all detained men, even if they are older than draft age.

People who came to the rally point at Kaluzhskaya square had to queue for half an hour to go through the metal detectors. "Everybody thought nobody would come and that's why everybody came," joked "Just Russia" Duma deputy Dmitry Gudkov at the head of the column.

That's true, a day before the march the mood among opposition activists was gloomy, everibody joked – why is the rally with an expected 5,000 participants announced is called a March of Millions.

But actually Gazeta.ru correspondents estimate that there were approximately 60,000 protesters. The organizers, among them Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev, declared there to have been 100,000 marchers, police estimated only 8,000 protesters, citing the number of those who came through metal detectors.

There were banners of "Solidarnost," "Left Front," nationalists, and the LGBT community all in separate marching columns. Several dozen participants formed a column in support of the arrested Pussy Riot members.

The protesters' slogans were as creative as during the winter protests: "there's an exit – a binge", "V.V.P., God sees all". A person with a poster saying "Freedom to Chekists (secret police officers – Gazeta.ru) and homosexualists" stood close to a girl with a poster "Death to Lubyanka occupants (moral)". There were funny girls with cat's ears and posters "Kitties for impeachment" and "Putin strokes against the fur." Other people had posters saying "Putin, ski, Magadan!" and "Churov, ski, Azbakan!"

When the marching column came to Bolotnaya square, the stage was empty. And getting there was not easy, the passage was not prepared for such a large number of people. There was an additional row of metal detectors there. A new human traffic jam occurred.

The protesters also stood on the other side of canal. But nobody went to Bolotnaya: people stumbled into riot police cordons in front of Bolshoi Kamenny bridge.

There were several cordons: conscript soldiers, riot police, more soldiers, some more riot police, and after them – bright orange water cannon trucks.

The mood was cheerful. A girl in a Putin mask conducted a small orchestra playing wartime songs. A group of young people shouted "Putin is a thief", dulling the orchestra. The senior citizen started to argue with them: "You've forgotten about Medvedev!" "He's still too small," they answered.

The fun ended when Left Front leader Sergei Udaltsov called the rally participants to sit in. "Everybody sit, or we lose," he shouted into the megaphone. "We are not here to disperse," he told Gazeta.ru. A few dozen men did sit and sat for 20 minutes. Udaltsov demanded a parley with the police through his megaphone, but the police didn't listen. Sit in perticipants stood up and started to run because someone had sprayed pepper gas. "Stinking goats," shouted a young man at the police, covering his mouth and nose with a handkerchief. Police later insisted someone in the crowd sprayed the gas.

Protest leaders Udaltsov, Navalny, and Yashin sat together at first, then the leader of the Left Front went onstage to announce that the rally was canceled because the situation had changed, and now there was a sit-in.

Groups of protesters started to join the sit-in, some with drums. OMON (riot police) started to push the protesters away, so that the sitters had to stand up and move.
OMON arrested Alexei Navalny first, almost breaking his arm. Udaltsov was arrested. When Nemtsov came on stage he was also arrested, rather gently, though. Leaderless activists stayed in the streets.

At first they were evidently confused. Several calls were shouted from different sides, some called to stand, some to run. But when the gas was sprayed, the peaceful rally turned into a real protest: pieces of asphalt started to fly at the police, and also flares and plastic bottles.

Bottles usually didn't fly far, since they were empty – all the water had been confiscated by the police at the end of the march, everyone was thirsty and the question "Do you have some water?" sounded like a joke.

Gazeta.ru correspondent observed the first to throw bottles and flares were young men in masks.

Riot police got angry and started to form in wedges and divide the protesters. Gas was sprayed few more times, and amid the smoke the police batons falling on the heads of the protesters were seen. The police beat hard, to draw blood, putting the faces to the ground, dragging by the hair, regardless of gender nor age. A middle-aged man was kicked by several policemen, the crowd cried "murderers."

At some point the opposition decided to resist. Riot police helmets were thrown into the canal, a bulletproof vest followed, a blooded policeman was evacuated by a colleague. NTV channel journalists were beaten – their scandalous movie "The anatomy of the protest" infuriated the opposition. New clashes arose everywhere, the opposition managed to win back some of their comrades from the riot police, among them Anastasia Rybachenko from Solidarnost. Before she was dragged away, she walked among the protesters with a megaphone, trying to form a human chain. There were democrats in this chain, National Bolsheviks, nationalists, a young man in a silver Pussy Riot mask, and Duma deputy Ilya Ponomarev. Two tents were pitched behind them, but they had to be stricken afterwards.

Those in this human chain were the last who were ready to resist the riot police. They kicked down several portable toilet cabins, and rivers of urine flowed on the road. "That's the sent of the revolution," someone joked. The chain of activists tried to storm the police chain, but unsuccessfully, they were also detained amid the hysterical cries of girls. Some of the protesters were not only beaten but dragged through yellow puddles.

After this last clash, Bolotnaya square was practically mopped up. The activists moved to the quay, where people in small boat under police guidance fished out police helmets. On the other side of the canal, police pushed those who stood there towards the nearby Tretyakov gallery. "The rally is over," a policeman shouted through the megaphone, as he had been doing for the last hour.

Actually, a few thousand more protesters remained in Bolshaya Ordynka and Polyanka streets. Here the brutal arrests continued until late in the evening. Protest leaders Navalny and Yashin were taken to Yakimanka police station. For now they face administrative charges for police disobedience, maximum punishment is 15 days in jail, but the Investigation Committee announced it has started a criminal case for calls to mass disorder. The maximum punishment under this article is 2 years in prison, but for now there are no suspects in the case. Police report 450 protesters detained on May 6. Seventeen rally participants and three policemen were hospitalized, another 17 policemen were harmed in some way, Moscow police repors. More than hundred draft summons were issued to the detained protesters.

Unauthorized protests and arrests continued the next day.

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