police detain protesters outside trial over anti-Putin rally
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[February 24, 2014]
By Thomas Grove and Ian Bateson
MOSCOW (Reuters) — Seven opponents of
President Vladimir Putin were sentenced to prison terms ranging from two
and a half to four years on Monday over a demonstration that turned
violent, and riot police detained over 100 people protesting outside the
The protesters, who blame police for the violence in central
Moscow in 2012, demanded the release of the defendants and shouted
"shame" and "Maidan" — a reference to the Kiev square that has been
the focus of protests that brought the overthrow of Ukrainian
President Viktor Yanukovich.
Relatives and lawyers had feared upheaval in neighboring Ukraine,
where police were among the dead in a conflict the Kremlin blames on
opposition leaders and the West, would prompt the court to send a
firm signal by imposing prison sentences.
An eighth defendant was given a suspended sentence that allows her
to avoid jail; but the rulings caused outrage among Kremlin critics
who see the prisoners as victims of a clampdown on dissent marking
Putin's election to a third term as president.
Opposition activists said more than 230 people were detained by riot
police who worked their way through the gathering at the courthouse,
detaining protesters one by one. Police put the figure at more than
The judge on Friday had found the defendants guilty of rioting and
attacking police at a protest on May 6, 2012, the day before Putin,
in power since 2000, returned to the presidency after a stint as
prime minister. The defendants blame police for the clashes that
erupted and pleaded not guilty.
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The sentences are likely to draw criticism from the United States
and European countries that have expressed concern about the
"Bolotnaya" trial and have accused Russia of restricting the freedom
of assembly and expression.
Government opponents called for a protest outside the Kremlin later
on Monday. Defence lawyers said they would appeal the verdicts.
(Writing by Steve Gutterman; editing by Ralph Boulton)
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