G-8 protesters plan to march despite ban

Dmitry Lovetsky / AP
Russian communists protest during a march through St.Petersburg, Russia.



ASSOCIATED PRESS

ST. PETERSBURG, Russia, July 15 — About 150 protesters faced off with police Saturday as they tried to exercise their right of assembly despite the Kremlin's determination to keep a lid on demonstrations during the Group of Eight summit.

Authorities limited the main protest activity to a stadium in a hard-to-reach part of the city and had prohibited any marches. But protesters walked out to the gateway entrance and asked police there for permission to continue marching outside the stadium.
Organizers told police they would guarantee order, but authorities refused to allow the march and said they must stay in the stadium. The demonstrators erupted in chants.
''Russia is not a jail! No to the G-8! Rights are not given, they are taken!'' the protesters shouted at the double row of police surrounding the gate, including dozens of heavily armed riot police.
About 250 people, meanwhile, attended a rally organized by the Communist Party in the city center where they were given permission to demonstrate.
Waving red flags, they listened as speaker after speaker berated the G-8. Musicians sang nostalgic, Soviet-era songs. ''Parasites, our own and foreign ones, should clear out of Russia,'' said one banner.
Participants said the crowd would have been larger, but many who had hoped to participate in the rally had been prevented by police from reaching St. Petersburg.
Fifteen young activists were detained in the city on their way to the protest, the city police department said. Police said they were stopped for walking in the street, creating a risk to traffic safety, and that some had resisted detention. All were taken to a police station.
NTV television showed police and the young people shoving one another, while one would-be protester tried to break away and run but was caught by plainclothes police.
Organizers of the stadium protest say more than 200 people were detained on their way to the ''counter-summit'' or taken off planes and trains, and many others were harassed and intimidated by police. Some have been sentenced to short jail terms on trumped-up charges, they said.
''It is the first time in recent Russian history that we have seen such a massive, coordinated ... campaign of pressure against activists,'' said Stanislav Margelov, a lawyer working with the loose alliance of groups that organized the gathering in the stadium.
The claims of repression underline Western concerns about Russia's democratic intentions under President Vladimir Putin. Bush said he told Putin in their private meeting that many Americans would like to see more freedom in Russia.
''He also explained to me that he doesn't want anybody telling him how to run his government,'' Bush said.
Other G-8 leaders are expected to raise the issue at the summit, even though Russia would like to keep it out of discussions. ''Nobody knows better than us how we can strengthen our own nation,'' Putin said.
Deputy Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said officials were acting legally.
''In case of unauthorized protests, measures will be taken to prevent them and not let them take place,'' Peskov said. ''However, this will all be done in strict conformity with Russian law.''
The German Foreign Ministry said two German university students who had come to St. Petersburg to report on the protests had been sentenced to 10 days in jail.
''I can see now that it's not just a dictatorship, it's a crazy one,'' Garret Mullan, a member of Socialist Party of Ireland, said of the scene at the stadium.