Nearly 90 protesters reported held in Moscow

Police officers detain a protestor during an unsanctioned rally in the center of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 3, 2019. Police in Moscow have detained a leading opposition figure as she was heading to an unauthorized rally and march protesting the exclusion of independent and opposition candidates from the Moscow city council election. Lyubov Sobol, who is one of the aspirants rejected from the ballot, has been detained in central Moscow and taken away in a police van. Police have detained dozens of other demonstrators. (AP Photo/ Pavel Golovkin)

By JIM HEINTZ Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — Moscow police on Saturday detained nearly 90 people protesting the exclusion of some independent and opposition candidates from the city council ballot, a monitoring group said, a week after authorities arrested nearly 1,400 at a similar protest.

Lyubov Sobol, one of the excluded candidates and a driving figure of the current wave of protests, was among those detained. She was grabbed by police in central Moscow and hustled into a police van, loudly demanding to know why she was being held.

Demonstrators were aiming to hold a march along the Boulevard Ring that skirts central Moscow and is a popular local for promenades.

But helmeted riot police started seizing demonstrators from a scattered crowd on Pushkin Square and pushing them back from another square further along the route.

The initial arrests appeared less harsh than many of them a week earlier, when police beat some protesters with truncheons. Some of those detained on Saturday appeared nonchalant, smirking or checking their phones as police led them to buses.

The OVD-Info group, which monitors arrests, said at least 89 people had been detained.

Despite repeated warnings that police would take active measures against a protest on Saturday, activists aimed to hold a march for about four kilometers (2.5 miles) along the Boulevard Ring that circles central Moscow and is a popular area to stroll.

Once a local, low-key affair, the September vote for Moscow’s city council has shaken up Russia’s political scene as the Kremlin struggles with how to deal with strongly opposing views in its sprawling capital of 12.6 million.

In the past month, the issue has provoked a surprisingly large outcry for a local election. On July 20, about 20,000 people turned out for a demonstration that was the largest in the city in several years.

On Saturday, about 3,000 people attended a rally in St. Petersburg supporting the Moscow protests, the local news site Fontanka.ru reported.

The Moscow city council, which has 45 seats, is responsible for a large municipal budget and is now controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its seats, which have a five-year-term, are up for grabs in the Sept. 8 vote.