MOSCOW -- Moscow police bulldozers razed early yesterday morning a protesters' shantytown across from the Kremlin gates that since the summer had been a squalid symbol of this society's new freedom and frustrations.
A police spokesman said 43 squatters were rousted at 2 a.m., loaded into buses and taken to a police holding center, where they would be given tickets to their home cities. Then bulldozers plowed the settlement into a snow-covered heap of cardboard boxes and sheet plastic, picket signs and abandoned belongings.
The settlement, on a triangular clearing between the modern Rossiya Hotel and old St. Basil's Cathedral, was home for scores of desperate and indignant protesters from across the country. They included destitute pensioners and refugees from ethnic conflict, former mental patients and people who said they had been unfairly ousted from jobs or apartments.
The non-Communist majority that won control of the Moscow City Council last spring tolerated the illegal encampment for six months, but the authorities said the wretched camp had become a lure for the mentally disturbed and a haven for petty criminals.
Pyotr I. Kartayev, a councilman, said the closing of the site had been recommended by a special commission that spent more than two months on a case-by-case review of the tent dwellers' situations.
Mr. Kartayev, who served on the panel with representatives of the national Parliament and the Russian republic, said last night that all those whose complaints seemed to have any merit had been offered free housing while the commission tried to resolve their cases.
However, along with the legitimate cases, like that of a man seeking legal rehabilitation for 10 years of unjust confinement in a police psychiatric ward, there were numerous cases of people obsessed -- those dwelling on imagined slights or otherwise out of touch with reality.
One shantytown resident, Mr. Kartayev said, asserted he could alter weather patterns. Some of the residents had turned grievances into careers, quitting jobs to fight the bureaucracy for five or 10 years over a relatively minor slight.
"In the old days," Mr. Kartayev said, "the tents would have been knocked down in 15 minutes. In democratic times, you hear everyone out, sometimes more than once. This was not done lightly. You cannot help feeling sorry for these people, but you cannot just feel sorry for them. You have to do something."