Sunday, 6 May 2012

Blood, Batons and Tear Gas- The Day Before Putin’s Inauguration

Protesters push metal fencing between themselves and the police . The police  broke through some minutes later.

It was expected to be a damp squib. A last ineffectual protest against Vladimir Putin’s presidential election win in March 2012. But if this was supposed to mark the end of protesters’ hopes of stopping Mr Putin becoming Russia’s president for a third time it went with a bang rather than a whimper.

Everyone was surprised by how many anti-Putin protesters showed up. In all likelihood the numbers exceeded 20,000 and were comparable to the protests on Bolotnaya square, over the river from the Kremlin, that were held in outrage at widespread allegations of election fraud in parliamentary elections in December 2011. This time the protesters were marching to Bolotnaya square once again.

The size of march surprised observers.

Down one of Moscow’s central thoroughfares they came, the usual hotpotch of colourful opposition group flags, showing off both their enthusiasm and their disunity. But when the main column reached a bridge leading to Bolotnaya square protesters were aghast to see ranks of interior ministry troops and OMOH (special riot police) lined up in front of them. There was a relatively sharp right turn that had to be made to reach the square. 

Protesters were shocked to see so many police barring the way to the Kremlin should they have wanted to go there.

Things deteriorated quite quickly from there. The protesters have hardliners of their own. A group of them including Lawyer, blogger and activist Navalny and opposition campaigner Sergei Udaltsov promptly sat down on front of the police line and said they wouldn’t move until Putin stepped down. This drew many cheers from the crowd. But around them were other groups of protesters who were more militant. How it started was unclear but very soon protesters pushed through the first line, only to be met by hundreds of police reinforcements charging back. 

Protesters break through police lines. The first charge came back about 30 seconds later.

In the ensuing hours hundreds were dragged away into police vans as the batons and tear gas flew. Some youths provoked the police by throwing stones, bottles and even the occasional firework. But the police lost their cool as well, lashing out with batons and boots, causing head injuries and taunting protesters to come and fight them.

Many baton charges followed. This group of police drag away  another protester.

By the evening the police had sealed the remaining protesters into a small part of street.

What was in December 2011 a large, peaceful protests had this time turned ugly. Authorities say it’s provocation by members of a desperate opposition riven with divisions. Those opposition groups  warn it’s a taste of life to come under Vladimir Putin’s third term. 

The sign reads, "tomorrow a thief crowns himself."

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