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Russian Opposition Leader Arrested Before He Could Join Protests


We are broadcasting from here in Moscow on a day of anti-government protests across this country.



GREENE: That was sound collected just a short while ago by our Moscow producer, Sergei Sotnikov, near a Moscow metro station. He said this was teenagers. They look like were about in high school, chanting, Putin thief, Putin thief.

Now, these demonstrations were organized by opposition leader Alexei Navalny, a lawyer with a large following on social media. Navalny himself was arrested this morning in Moscow before the protests even began. Police are still detaining people here in Moscow and also in St. Petersburg. The center of action seems to be near Pushkin Square, which is just up a big boulevard from the Kremlin, not far from where we're broadcasting.

And NPR national security correspondent Mary Louise Kelly is out there in the crowd. Mary Louise, what's the scene like?

MARY LOUISE KELLY, BYLINE: Hi, David. I am very much in the thick of the crowd. We are watching an aggressive clear-and-arrest operation unfolding before me right now. I think the number of police when we spoke an hour ago was in the hundreds, and it's growing. They are one by one going in in lines, a dozen or so police at once. They go in. They target a demonstrator. They either lead them away, or if the protester won't come, they're knocking them to the ground and carrying them out.

We just heard some shots going off. It looks like that's rubber bullets. But they are working. They've got protesters corralled in this little island of trees here on the corner of Pushkin Square, and they are one by one clearing them out, pushing the crowds back.

GREENE: Are they are they going after everyone now? I know we talked earlier. They were just going after people who were, you know, the most enthusiastic, chanting slogans and things. It sounds like things might be changing.

KELLY: Things are changing. They're going after everyone. There is a line. I'm going to say it's three police thick, and it's stretching as far as my eye can see - hundreds of people lined up. And - oh, there goes another one. They've - just moving four more protesters as speak to you now. And now the next line of police is going in.

Meanwhile, there's helicopters circling and huge crowds being pushed farther back into the side streets. They've barricaded the square itself, so we're being pushed out of the square down side streets here in central Moscow.

GREENE: All right. NPR's Mary Louise Kelly reporting in central Moscow as the protests there continue. Mary Louise, thanks a lot.

KELLY: Thank you. Thanks. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.

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