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That Time of the Month: The Split in the Opposition Protest Movement Has Run Its Course as Rights Activists and Moderates Are Starting to Protest for Free Elections

Over 50 radical opposition protesters led by Eduard Limonov were detained in an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow on Thursday evening, while rights activists and moderate political opposition held a separate rally on the nearby Pushkin Square. The second protest, which appears to complete the schism in the opposition protest movement, was officially sanctioned by the authorities and gathered under the slogan "For free and fair elections."

With the approach of parliamentary elections in December and the presidential elections no more than a year away, human rights activist Lyudmila Alexeyeva told the crowd that the fight for free elections is the most pressing issue for the opposition. She had previously co-led the "Strategy 31" movement, which met on Triumph Square with Limonov on the 31st of every month with 31 days to protest the right to assembly enshrined in Article 31 of the Russian Constitution.

But on Thursday evening, the veteran rights activist tried to whip up between 350 and 700 peaceful demonstrators to challenge the political monopoly of the United Russia ruling party with chants of "Say 'no' to United Russia!" "Today, it is not down to us who leads our country," she told protesters. "It is the people who are in power who decide and of course they do this in their own interests. Today's regime was established by United Russia, which has shown they do not take our interests into account." Alexeyeva said that she would publically demonstrate on the last day of every month for free elections.

The protest on Puskhin Square was attended by a medley of protestors including ecological activists fighting against the felling of Khimki Forest and a band of praying Hare Krishnas who tapped on a drum rhythmically throughout proceedings.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, former State Duma deputy and outspoken critic of Vladimir Putin, told protestors that they appear to have cemented a victory in being allowed to protest publically again, but that nationwide arrests at the "Strategy 31" protests.

Interfax reported that over a hundred were detained in St. Petersburg and between ten and 15 in Nizhny Novgorod. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov was briefly detained in St. Petersburg.

Triumph Square was the usual scene of chaos as pedestrians on their way home from work and swarms of journalists created bottlenecks against tightly-policed barriers under the statue of Mayakovsky on a crisp spring evening. Heavily outnumbered by black-helmeted riot police, 56 of the more radical opposition, including Eduard Limonov and Konstantin Kosyakin of the Left Front, were hauled away to police buses as revelers chanted "Down with the Chekists!"

Four protesters were detained by riot police after they tried to scale the scaffolding on a building on Tverskaya-Yamskaya Street to unfurl a huge banner in front of the chaos below. It was unclear how many protesters were present or their political allegiances. Nikolai Filipovich, 67, who wore a "Strategy 31" badge, said simply that he supports Russia without Putin. "The police consistently break up these gatherings and don't allow us to come together," said Filipovich.

The Strategy 31 organizers claim that their offices at Belorusskaya in central Moscow were raided by around 20 uniformed police officers on Wednesday in an attempt to intimidate them ahead of the protests. Four of the organizers were briefly detained in the offices in connection with a criminal investigation into an "illegal enterprise," said Alexander Averin, a member of the Strategy 31 committee, in a press statement.

"Whatever this has to do with the Strategy 31 offices, the people carrying out the search did not explain," He added that a similar raid was carried out before the January 31 protest. "Obviously it was an attempt to scare activists ahead of the 31st."

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