By Andrew Osborn
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin, an ally of President Vladimir Putin, told opposition activists on Tuesday he would not allow their protest movement to plunge the Russian capital into anarchy and accused them of plotting mass disorder.
Sobyanin was speaking after police rounded up more than 1,000 people in Moscow on Saturday in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years against an increasingly defiant opposition decrying Putin’s tight grip on power.
Dozens of demonstrators and several police officers were injured after police used batons to disperse crowds and, in some cases, beat protesters taking part in what the authorities said was an illegal demonstration.
Allies of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny have urged people to take to Moscow’s streets again this Saturday, again without the authorities’ approval and pressing the same demand.
They are calling for opposition-minded candidates to be allowed to run in a Sept. 8 vote in the Russian capital. Authorities barred the candidates from running on the grounds that they failed to collect sufficient genuine signatures in their support, an assertion the candidates reject as false.
The United States, the European Union, the United Nations and human rights groups have condemned what they called the disproportionate use of force by police on Saturday and opposition activists say their protest was peaceful.
But Sobyanin, in his first public comments on Saturday’s demonstration, described the protest as mass disorder and praised the police for what he called their appropriate response, saying they had fulfilled their duty.
“How do I assess them? As mass disorder well planned in advance,” Sobyanin told the TV Centre television channel when asked to say what he thought of Saturday’s events.
The protesters “tried to block roads, block streets and assault police officers. They simply forced the police to use force”, he said.
Sobyanin accused the organisers of trying to use illegal means to win power in Moscow and said the election for the 45-seat city parliament that the barred opposition candidates are trying to take part in would be competitive without them, with five people vying for each seat.
When asked to comment on activists’ plans for another protest this Saturday, he called it a provocation.
“Anarchy, disorder and lawlessness make real problems worse and end in tragedy,” said Sobyanin.
“There are more than enough examples in our country’s history. Order will be maintained and it cannot be any other way.”
(Editing by Frances Kerry)