THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Moscow police arrest rights activist

By Associated Press
January 1, 2010

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MOSCOW - Police detained dozens of people at an anti-Kremlin protest yesterday, including 82-year-old Lyudmila Alexeyeva, one of Russia’s most respected rights activists.

Alexeyeva was among those seen being pushed into five buses as police broke up the protest on a central Moscow square.

Her detention drew criticism from rights groups and the head of the presidential human rights council, Ella Pamfilova, who said that she was working to get all the protesters released.

Reached late in the evening by cellphone, Alexeyeva said she was in the office of the Moscow police chief, who had promised to release all of the protesters. She was free but said she would not leave until the others were released.

She had arrived at the New Year’s Eve protest dressed as the Snow Maiden, the companion of Grandfather Frost. Police had forbidden the protest on the grounds that it would interfere with New Year’s festivities.

Small groups of protesters yesterday shouted “Freedom’’ or “End Putin’s Reign’’ before being detained or shoved away from the square.

Since coming to power 10 years ago, Vladimir Putin has rolled back many of the democratic achievements of the 1990s.

The protest was a repeat of actions held on the 31st of July, August, and October. The timing is a nod to the 31st Article of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly.

City authorities banned all the protests and sent police to break them up. But this is the first time police have detained Alexeyeva, a leading Soviet dissident who has continued to lead the fight for democracy and human rights in Russia. She was among this year’s recipients of the European Union’s top human rights award.

Opposition leader Eduard Limonov was detained as he approached the square, as he has been ahead of previous protests, according to activists. He spent 10 days in jail in November on charges of organizing the Oct. 31 protest and resisting arrest.

Yesterday’s protest ended an hour after it started when 40 helmeted riot police joined the hundreds of city police in clearing the square.

“They’re breaking the law by doing this,’’ said Viktor Shenderovich, a political satirist and opposition activist. “They are violating our constitutional right to assembly.’’