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Hundreds of Arrests Set Grim Backdrop for Victory Day Celebrations

MTOMON troops stream down the street to head off protesters in downtown Moscow Tuesday.
As Moscow gears up tocelebrate its victory inWorld War II, 67 years ago Wednesday, theshadow ofpolitical conflict shrouds thecapital as hundreds ofarrests cloud Victory Day festivities. 

Police said over 200 arrests were made Tuesday andovernight Wednesday onthe eve ofthe anniversary, including repeat detentions forLeft-Front leader Sergei Udaltsov andanti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, who was arrested twice ina single evening, Interfax reported. Socialite Kseniya Sobchack andState Duma Deputy Dmitry Gudkov were also among those arrested during the protests against President Vladimir Putin's inauguration, though they were later released.

A group of hundreds of protestors spent most of the day Tuesday on Chistoprudny Bulvar, using large rolls of 
plastic sheeting attached to the trees above the heads of the protesters to cover them from the rain. Several activists were handing out
 free sandwiches and hot tea. Many people brought plastic camping mats to sleep on.

At about 7:30 p.m. teams of OMON riot police armed with batons dashed toward protesters, many of whom did not have time to escape arrest. Dozens were detained, largely without the use of force.

The protesters fled to the Kitai-Gorod metro station
on foot, where riot police and at least a dozen police vans were already
waiting for them. Groups of demonstrators dispersed themselves throughout the city, and arrests continued as police pursued protesters on foot and in cars.

About 10 riot police gave chase to a group of nearly 100 protesters who scattered in the Arbat neighborhood just before midnight. One group of riot police, who hit lamp posts and fences with their batons as they ran, were joined by plainclothes police officers wielding batons as they arrested a group of six protestors in a residential courtyard on Plotnikov Pereulok. A local resident, Ilya Arbatsky, who was walking his dog at the time of the arrests, said that the protestors were all teenagers, with none over the age of 20. 

Many activists were released shortly after being taken into custody, only to rejoin protesters and be arrested again.

At about 9:45 p.m., protest leaders Ilya Ponomaryov and Aleksei Navalny were seen 
in the midst of a crowd of cheerful supporters marching down Tverskaya Ulitsa towards Manezhnaya Ploshad. Sobchak and Navalny were detained outside the ITAR TASS agency building on Bolshaya Nikitskaya, in the rain, at about 10:30 p.m. 

Sobchak called her arrest illegal. "It was anabsolutely illegal arrest. We didn't chant, we didn't stand with signs. I walked around town with agroup ofpeople that didn't want toseparate," she wrote onTwitter.

Udaltsov was arrested later in the early hours of Wednesday morning near Patriarch's Ponds. He announced through his lawyer Nikolai Polozov that he will hold ahunger strike. He will remain incustody atleast until acourt hearing appointed forThursday.

As another group of about 50 protestors was detained by riot police shortly after 1:00am, the mood was light-hearted, with protestors jostling each other to get on the waiting police vehicles. The driver of one of the city buses filmed the protestors being led on to his bus on his mobile phone.

“It's very beautiful what is going on now,” Aleksei Arkhipov, a teacher who was watching the events unfold, told The Moscow Times. “Because when people climb into police vans voluntarily and applaud each other it's a very civilized answer to brute force.”

After being released, Sobchak andGudkov later met with about 50 supporters near theBarrikadnaya metro station. Police broke up themeeting andarrested several demonstrators, despite Gudkov's protests that as aState Duma deputy he could hold meetings with citizens without permission fromauthorities.

Those arrested included Navalny, who came toattend themeeting immediately after he was released from his detention earlier in the evening. Navalny's lawyer later said on Twitter that he was being kept ina truck outside thedetention center andcalled forsupporters tobring food andwater. 

The arrests came as demonstrators continued asecond night ofround-the-clock mobile protest ofPutin's inauguration Monday. Police said the 200 arrests made Tuesday included repeat arrests of individuals that rejoined protesters after being released. Police said about 300 were arrested Monday. 

A spokesman forthe U.S. State Department expressed concern about reports ofviolence inMoscow during theprotests andarrests. "We are troubled byreports ofviolence inMoscow during theprotests onMay 6th andby thearrests that have been carried out over thelast three days," State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said, Bloomberg reported.

"We are disturbed byimages ofpolice mistreatment ofpeaceful protesters, both during theprotests andafter detentions … We want Russia tofulfill its own potential, andthat means giving people thechance tofreely express themselves," he said. 

Opposition activists called fordemonstrators to converge atPushkin Square at11 a.m. Wednesday, where a sanctioned rally was being held by the Communist Party. Opposition organizers clarified on Facebook that they did not want to join the communist rally, but use it as a way to gather legally for a march down Tverskaya Ulitsa toward the Kremlin. Demonstrators arriving atthe scene began reporting aheavy police presence via Twitter.

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