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At Least 500 Demonstrators Arrested In Moscow

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Five years ago, there were major anti-government protests in Russia. Since then, the opposition movement there has struggled to keep momentum. But then came this past weekend. Russian police arrested hundreds in Moscow and other cities yesterday. People were out on the streets calling for an end to government corruption and demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. A presidential spokesman said this morning that the opposition has been provoking the violence. From Moscow, Charles Maynes reports.

(SOUNDBITE OF RALLY)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Speaking Russian).

CHARLES MAYNES: Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny had called for the nationwide anti-corruption rally, really just a mass stroll down Moscow's central Tverskaya Street towards the Kremlin, after publishing an investigation that detailed Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's lavish holdings. The report, which the government is ignoring, alleges Medvedev used shell charity companies to acquire a yacht, mansions and an Italian vineyard. The report even charges Medvedev has a separate house for a collection of pet ducks.

IKAAS YURMAN: (Speaking Russian).

MAYNES: "We just want an investigation," says protester Ikaas Yurman (ph). In advance of Sunday, authorities warned the protest was illegal and demonstrators would face fines and arrest. Indeed, Navalny saw little of the event he orchestrated. Riot police detained the opposition leader as soon as he arrived in downtown Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF PROTEST)

UNIDENTIFIED PROTESTERS: (Chanting in Russian).

MAYNES: In a chaotic scene, Navalny supporters yelled shame as they briefly attempted to pry open the police van that held him. Authorities say over 500 were detained in Moscow alone, though activist groups put that number at double. Dozens more arrests were reported across the country.

U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner issued a statement condemning the detentions, adding Washington was troubled by the arrest of Navalny. Meanwhile, Russian state media all but ignored what appeared to be the largest anti-government demonstration since 2011. And Prime Minister Medvedev - he posted a note to Instagram saying he'd spent the day skiing. For NPR News, I'm Charles Maynes in Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOZ'S "IF YOU COULD SEE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.