Riot police have broken up a week-old protest camp in central Moscow detaining more than 20 campers and forcing dozens to leave the place.
Police moved in early on Wednesday after a Moscow court issued an order on Tuesday “to stop the mass activity and the violations of civil order”. The court ruling was in response of a lawsuit filed by a few local residents who complained of noise, litter and filth. The campers' testimony, backed by many journalists, that they kept the place clean and tidy was rejected.
Moscow city authorities said the protesters had inflicted damage of more than 20 million roubles ($670,000) to the lawns in the park.
The makeshift camp was set up in protest against the return of Vladimir Putin, who was sworn in as Russia's President on May 7.
Taking a page from the global Occupy movement, activists named their camp Occupy Abai, after a 19th-century Kazakh poet, Kunanbayev Abai, whose statue stands nearby. The campers' numbers varied from dozens at night to thousands during daytime, and they planned to continue their round-the-clock sit-in till June 12, Russia Day holiday, when the opposition plans to organise a mass demonstration in Moscow.
Evicted from the Occupy Abai camp, the protesters moved to a new location near the Barrikadnaya (Barricade) Metro station, named to commemorate the 1905 anti-Tsar uprising in Moscow.
“Notwithstanding the eviction, our protest will continue till June 12,” said Ilya Ponomaryov, an opposition MP. “If they drive us away from Barrikadnaya, we will just promenade along boulevards. Nobody can ban us from taking strolls in our city.”
The Occupy Abai movement was a spontaneous response to police brutality and detention of hundreds of protesters during a 50,000-strong demonstration on May 6, the first mass protest in many years that ended in violent clashes with police.
Opposition activists have since been experimenting with innovative protest tactics that included, along with camp sit-ins, a “stroll” organised by popular writers last Sunday, which drew between 10,000 to 20,000 Muscovites.
A group of Moscow artists plans to organise a Nomadic Museum this coming Saturday, when the annual Night at the Museum festival is held. Artists will push and pull their works through the capital in support of the freedom of assembly.