Russian police released hundreds of protestors and activists who were detained during anti-Vladimir Putin rallies in Moscow on Monday, including opposition leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov.
Between 250 and 500 people were arrested following large rallies in the Russian capital against Sunday's presidential elections, which Putin won with a resounding 64 percent of the vote tally. Similar to what happened after December's parliamentary elections, the opposition claimed that the vote was rigged and gathered tens of thousands of people in Moscow to call for Putin's resignation.
Police cordoned off sections of Pushkin Square, where activists had received government permission to protest, and used smoke bombs to disperse a crowds of 2,000 people, including Navalny and Udaltsov, who refused to leave after the event ended.
The use of force and detention of opposition politicians could have been avoided, Russian mogul Mikhail Prokhorov, who finished third in the presidential elections, said on Monday night.
It was a peaceful rally. I am outraged by the use of force against people who came to express their views. Today's events at Pushkin Square broke the tradition of the recent peaceful protest rallies in the country.
Eduard Limonov, a writer and head of the banned National Bolshevik Party, was also arrested for protesting outside Pushkin Square without first informing the authorities of his plans. Activist Ilya Yashin, who runs the liberal democratic Solidarnost movement, was also arrested Monday.
Has war begun? Why have they brought troops into the center of our capital? Why the riot police? Who does he want to wage war with? Who is he protecting himself against? Yashin said during a speech in Pushkin Square.
Most of those arrested were charged with public disorder offenses, a civil crime that carries a fine of up to 2,000 rubles ($68). They will appear in court on Tuesday.
Putin's government has defended the arrests. His spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said on Tuesday that the police acted professionally and were right in apprehending those who stayed around after the protest was scheduled to end.
The opposition action occurred in two parts -- the legal and the illegal. And in both the legal and illegal parts police showed a high level of professionalism, legitimacy and effectiveness,” Peskov told Russian reporters.
“The police on Pushkin Square were much more humane than at the break-ups of the Occupy Wall St. protest and tent cities in Europe,” the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted on Tuesday.
The arrests didn't discourage opposition leaders, who are already planning new rallies in Moscow for Saturday.
“We are holding negotiations on the location of the rally,” Udaltsov told RIA Novosti. “If no permission is given, the protest committee will decide what to do next.”
Moscow police also announced the arrests of two men who were suspected of building homemade bombs that would be used during a pro-Putin rally in Manezh Square on Monday. The suspects have been identified as Ilya Parkhomenko, 21, and Andrei Zhuravlyov, 22. They face five to eight years in jail.
Putin warned of such plots early last week, when he said the opposition will go so far as to commit murder to make the election results appear illegitimate. Police also foiled a Ukrainian bomb plot aimed at assassinating Putin, although Putin's opponents blasted the arrests as an attempt to drum up sympathetic support before Sunday's vote.
Some 300 additional people were arrested during protests in St. Petersburg on Monday.