EU lawmakers attend rally in Moscow and criticize Russian police for stopping it

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

EU lawmakers criticize Russian handling of rally

MOSCOW — Four European Union lawmakers joined a banned opposition rally in central Moscow on Tuesday and criticized Russian police for violently detaining an opposition leader and other protesters.

Heidi Hautala, who heads the EU parliament’s subcommittee on human rights, called the detention of former Russian Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov at Tuesday’s rally “a violation.”

Baton-wielding police officers also violently pushed around her colleague, Dutch lawmaker Thijs Berman.

“This is an amazing way of dealing with democracy, shocking,” Berman told The Associated Press.

Dozens of police officers heavily cordoned off the square where it was held and detained at least two dozen protesters. Police also detained some 60 protesters at a similar rally in St. Petersburg.

Opposition groups have been calling rallies on the 31st day of each month to honor the 31st article of the Russian Constitution, which guarantees the right of assembly. Most of the rallies have been banned or dispersed by police as unsanctioned.

The EU lawmakers were visiting Russia to attend a Sept. 1 commemoration ceremony for the hostage-taking raid on a school in Beslan in 2004 in which 334 people died — more than half of them children.

On Monday, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russian police would keep breaking up opposition protests unless the dissidents obtain official permission to rally — permission they are routinely denied.

“You will be beaten upside the head with a truncheon. And that’s it,” Putin declared.

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