(MOSCOW) — Hundreds of young people camped out in a square in central Moscow on Monday night, defying riot police who have detained more than 700 people in two days of protests surrounding Vladimir Putin’s inauguration. Some are calling for them to come out to the square again Tuesday night.
The atmosphere Monday night was festive. Those who turned out sang songs and played soccer, but refrained from chanting anti-Putin slogans or carrying signs – anything that would give authorities an excuse to arrest them. Police kept a watchful eye anyway. By mid-morning they finally moved in to clear out the protesters and pushed them into the metro, arresting a handful who resisted.
Protest organizers are still wandering the city, encouraging followers to stage similar flash mobs around Moscow to keep up the pressure on Putin. Tuesday and Wednesday are public holidays in Russia, giving more people time to come out and protest, but a rainy forecast may dampen the turnout. Some protest leaders, meanwhile, are urging people to take more constructive action than sit-ins – another sign of the opposition’s persistent divisions.
All of this took place after a day in which riot police were in no mood to tolerate dissent. As Putin spoke about strengthening Russia’s democracy during his brief inauguration speech, riot police stormed popular cafes and restaurants, even a McDonald’s, to clear out people they suspected of planning a protest.
Several people were detained just for walking down the street wearing white ribbons, the symbol of the opposition. Some young men who were detained were reportedly referred to military draft offices because they had not served mandatory military service.
Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio
Paul Cruickshank and Michael Pearson, CNN