Thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets across Russia as part of a day of anti-corruption protests against the Kremlin.
Prominent opposition figure Alexei Navalny was arrested at his home before the demonstrations began, prompting his wife Yulia to take to his Twitter account to confirm the protests would still go ahead.
“Hello. This is Yulia Navalnaya… Alexei has been detained in the stairwell [of our home],” she tweeted around 30 minutes before the demonstrations were due to get underway.
Police confirmed Navalny had been detained, and said he would be held for 15 days for failing to comply with police instructions and public order offences.
In a statement, Moscow police department said: “Alexei Navalny has been detained by police officers; he has been taken to the MVD (Ministry of Internal Affairs) department for drawing up protocols on administrative violations.”
Staff at Navalny’s headquarters said their internet connection and electricity had been cut ahead of today’s protests, which were taking place on a public holiday to mark Russia Day, preventing them from sending their supporters updates.
Witnesses in Moscow described seeing scores of people arrested by baton-wielding riot police, who were said to have used pepper spray to disperse the crowds.
Police in Moscow had originally sanctioned today’s protest on the condition that it took place in an area away from the city centre, but promised to come down hard on demonstrators after the venue was changed by Navalny to Tverskaya Street, a move the general prosecutor’s office said was illegal.
In St Petersburg, reporters on the ground said they counted more than 200 arrests at a protest there, while further detentions were said to have taken place in a number of Siberian cities.
Moscow protester Alexander Tyurin told the AFP news agency: “[Russian President Vladimir] Putin has been in power for 17 years and is not planning to leave. He has usurped all power. Corruption is a system. I work in a construction company, and everything is mired in corruption.”
Protesters in the capital chanted slogans including “Russia without Putin” and “Down with the tsar” as they attempted to make their way up Tverskaya Street, which leads to the Kremlin.
Navalny, who plans to challenge Putin in Russia’s upcoming election next year, called for the demonstrations to protest against what he describes as a corrupt system of rule overseen by the country’s current President.
Navalny coordinated similar protests in March, which resulted in the arrest of up to 700 people in Moscow after an estimated 60,000 took to the streets across the country.
He was arrested in much the circumstances as he was this morning after these demonstrations, receiving a fine and 15 days behind bars.