MOSCOW (Reuters) - Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin on Tuesday called anti-corruption protests that brought thousands of people onto the streets of the Russian capital “a dangerous provocation”, Interfax news agency reported.
Baton-wielding riot police broke up Monday’s protests and detained hundreds of demonstrators in Moscow and other Russian cities. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who called the protests, was arrested and swiftly sentenced to a prison term.
The protests were some of the biggest in Russia since 2012.
“The unpermitted action in the centre of Moscow on June 12 was a vile and dangerous provocation. It is a miracle that nobody was injured,” Sobyanin said. “We all are lucky that there was no bloodshed.”
Moscow authorities had initially authorised a venue for the protest away from the city centre. But Navalny switched it to Tverskaya Street, Moscow’s main avenue near the Kremlin. The General Prosecutor’s Office had warned that a protest there would be illegal.
“The police and the OMON (riot police) acted in a professional and proper way,” Sobyanin said. “If the law enforcement had acted in a different way, this could have led to unpredictable consequences.”
A top German Foreign Ministry official on Tuesday criticised the arrest of demonstrators and said Berlin expected them to be released swiftly.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson also said in a statement that he was concerned by the detentions.
“They were exercising their fundamental rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly, which are enshrined in the Russian constitution,” Johnson said.
“The UK calls on the government of Russia to comply with its international commitments in the Council of Europe and the OSCE (Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe), and release citizens detained during peaceful demonstrations.”
The Kremlin said earlier on Tuesday that Russian authorities would not pay attention to U.S. calls to release the detained demonstrators.
Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Alistair Smout in London; editing by Angus MacSwan and Kevin Liffey