By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian authorities on Friday moved to press criminal charges against 10 people for their involvement in what they called mass unrest at an opposition protest last weekend, as defiant Kremlin critics vowed to hold another rally on Saturday.
Police rounded up more than 1,300 people at an unauthorised protest in Moscow last Saturday in one of the biggest crackdowns of recent years on an increasingly defiant opposition decrying President Vladimir Putin’s tight grip on power.
Despite several of its leaders being jailed over the protest for up to 30 days, the opposition plans to stage another rally on Saturday, capitalising on the tensions as Putin’s ratings have slipped following years of falling incomes.
Moscow prosecutors on Friday warned would-be protesters that the demonstration had not been agreed with authorities, that its organisers could be brought to account and said it had issued a formal warning to hunger-striking activist Lyubov Sobol.
Protesters are calling for Moscow city authorities to allow opposition members to be allowed to run in a Sept. 8 local election. They were barred from running for failing to gather enough signatures of support, which they say is a lie.
Sobol said she planned to join the protest on Saturday despite the warning from prosecutors, saying that “Political repressions will grow if we give in!”
Investigators opened criminal proceedings over the protest on Thursday, saying it had identified 10 key suspects in what it said was mass civil unrest last weekend. Organising mass civil unrest carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail.
Courts in Moscow on Friday ordered four people to be held in custody for almost two months on suspicion of taking part in mass disorder, Russia’s Mediazona media outlet reported.
A court was due to rule on a fifth suspect later on Friday. The group could face up to eight years in jail.
Two opposition activists being held in custody, including an ally of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and a man accused of mass civil unrest, declared hunger strikes on Friday, opposition activists said on social media.
Police on Friday also detained five more suspects as part of the investigation, TASS news agency reported.
(Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)