Russian police arrest hundreds at protest, including opposition leader Navalny, after reporter's release

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Police officers detain Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. PHOTO: REUTERS

MOSCOW (NYTIMES) - Moscow police arrested about 400 people, including the country's main opposition leader, during a street protest on Wednesday (June 12) against abusive police tactics.

At an event where the outcome, mass arrests, seemed only to confirm the protesters' complaints, riot police dragged demonstrators from the crowd seemingly at random and arrested news photographers and reporters.

Police said more than 200 protesters had been detained. OVD Info, an independent group monitoring arrests, said more than 400 had been arrested.

Among them was Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader.

Organisers had called the protest to support a Russian journalist, Ivan Golunov, whom supporters say police had framed on drug charges last week.

Pictures produced by police that seemed to show a drug lab in the reporter's apartment had been faked.

In a rare about-face, authorities released Golunov on Tuesday, acknowledged there was no evidence to support the charges and opened an investigation into the police who had detained him.

That seemingly met the demands of the protest organisers.

But several thousand people turned up anyway, saying the reporter's release was just a ruse to defuse a protest or that police abuse was a problem wider than just his case.

The arrests on Wednesday "are a perfect example of the cruel repression that brought protesters to the streets in the first place," Denis Krivosheev, deputy director for Amnesty International's Eastern European and Central Asia Office, said.

In the crowd, the perception that Russian police plant drugs on dissidents was widespread.

It is a new form of political repression, participants said.

Russian journalists numbering at least in the dozens turned up to take part in the demonstration, rather than to cover the event.

"Golunov was only an example of all the abuses bothering people," said Tatyana Felgenhauer, an anchor at Echo of Moscow radio station. "Ivan is free, but the story isn't over."

Golunov had been reporting on corruption in the funeral home industry.

Russian families are often pressed to pay bribes to bury loved ones.

The bribery racket has been shifting from organised crime groups to corrupt security service officials, Golunov reported before his arrest, and he had planned another article on the topic.

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