Supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexey Navalny demand his release, defying bitter cold and a ban on protests.
Russian police have arrested more than 3,000 people and used force to break up rallies around the country, a monitoring group said, as tens of thousands of protesters demanded the release of Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny, whose wife was among those detained.
Navalny had called on his supporters to protest on Saturday after being arrested last weekend as he returned to Russia from Germany for the first time since being poisoned with a nerve agent he says was applied to his underpants by state security agents in August.
The authorities had warned people to stay away from the protests, saying they risked catching COVID-19 as well as prosecution and possible jail time for attending an unauthorised event. But protesters defied the ban and bitter cold and turned out in force.
The OVD-Info protest monitor group said at least 3,060 people – including 1,099 in the capital, Moscow and 386 in Saint Petersburg – had been detained across Russia, a number likely to rise. It reported arrests at rallies in nearly 110 towns and cities.
In central Moscow, where an estimated tens of thousands of people had gathered in one of the biggest unauthorised rallies for years, police were seen detaining people, bundling them into nearby vans. The authorities said just some 4,000 people had shown up.
“There were violent clashes with the police, with the police using their batons to beat them down,” Al Jazeera’s Aleksandra Godfroid, reporting from Moscow, said.
Navalny’s wife, Yulia, said on social media she had been detained at the rally. She was later released. Lyubov Sobol, a prominent aide of Navalny and lawyer, was also among those held.