MOSCOW (AP) — Russian police moved quickly Saturday to break up peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin’s military mobilization order, arresting hundreds, including children, in dozens of cities across the vast country.
Police arrested nearly 750 people, including more than 370 in Moscow and some 150 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an independent website that monitors political arrests in Russia. Some of those arrested were minors, OVD-Info said.
The protests followed demonstrations that erupted hours on Wednesday after Putin, in a bid to bolster his volunteer forces fighting in Ukraine, announced a call for experienced and qualified army reservists.
The Ministry of Defense said around 300,000 people would be called up for active duty, but the order left the door open for many more people called up for service. Most Russian men between the ages of 18 and 65 are automatically counted as reservists.
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On Saturday, police deployed in force in towns where protests were planned by the opposition group Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny. They moved quickly to arrest the protesters, mostly young people, before they could stage demonstrations.
In Moscow, a large contingent of police scoured a city center where a protest was planned in the pouring rain and checked the IDs of passers-by. Officers rounded up those they deemed suspicious and then handed out summonses to the arrested men.
A young woman climbed onto a bench and shouted “We are not cannon fodder! before the police take him away.
Police arrested a man in a park just outside Red Square and led him away as others shouted “Shame!”
Before being assembled in St. Petersburg, a small group of protesters managed to briefly march along the main Nevsky Avenue shouting “Putin in the trenches!”
In the eastern Siberian city of Novosibirsk, more than 70 people have been arrested after singing an innocuous Soviet-era song praising peace.
People who tried to hold individual pickets authorized by Russian law were also arrested.
The swift police action followed the dispersal of protests on Wednesday, when more than 1,300 people were arrested in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities on Wednesday.
Putin on Saturday signed a hastily approved bill that toughens the penalty for soldiers who disobey officers’ orders, desert or surrender to the enemy.
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