Russian police swoop on opposition protest

Activists had gathered to protest against govt and embattled Moscow mayor.

Moscow: Russian opposition activists gathering for an anti-government demonstration in Moscow on Sunday found themselves heavily outnumbered by security forces and 30 were arrested.

Around 50 opposition activists gathered outside Moscow`s City Hall to protest against the government and embattled Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov, according to a reporter at the scene.

The protesters barely had time to assemble before they were surrounded by several hundred riot police, reinforced by personnel from the Interior Ministry, with around a dozen military vehicles in nearby streets.

According to independent radio station Echo of Moscow, 30 people were arrested at the protest, which was unauthorised.

One of the organisers, Left Front leader Sergey Udaltsov, was arrested upon arrival.

The arrested included Konstantin Kosyakin, one of the organisers of the Strategy 31 movement, named after Article 31 of the Russian Constitution which permits peaceful assembly.

During the protest, which lasted 20 minutes, young people threw flares and shouted "Russia without Putin", referring to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, a former president.

At one point, a bearded man wearing a jester`s hat with bells shouted anti-government slogans and was led away by police as other activists cried "Shame".

A further 50 people were arrested at a protest in Saint Petersburg, Interfax news agency reported.

In a speech broadcast last evening on Russian television, President Dmitry Medvedev defended Russian democracy.

Official pressure has mounted drastically on Luzhkov, 73, in the last days with the Kremlin showing increasing signs of exasperation with his handling of the August wildfire crisis and the mayor`s refusal to step aside after 18 years in charge of the Russian capital.