Kasparov blocked from protest march

At Moscow airport, Russian police prevent Putin critic from flying to event site

May 19, 2007|By Alex Rodriguez | Alex Rodriguez,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

MOSCOW -- Former chess champion Garry Kasparov is finding out what it means to take on the Kremlin. Last month he was arrested by Moscow riot police at a pro-democracy march he helped organize and then grilled by Russian security agents on suspicion of seeding extremism.

Yesterday, as he checked in at Moscow's Sheremetyevo Airport for a morning flight to the Volga River city of Samara to take part in a protest march coinciding with a Russia-European Union summit, a Russian police officer approached. Saying nothing, the officer took Kasparov's passport and his ticket and the passports and tickets of his colleagues, said Kasparov spokeswoman Marina Litvinovich.

Kasparov, his aides and several journalists on the same flight were detained five hours. Kasparov missed his flight and a second flight leaving for Samara. When it became clear that Kasparov and his team would not get to Samara, police returned the passports.

"It was a joke," said Kasparov. "They took our passports and didn't say anything. When we tried to leave, they said, `You can't leave. You're not detained, but you can't leave.' They acted with such arrogance."

Russian authorities have increased pressure on Kasparov and his pro-democracy movement, Other Russia, since the group began organizing marches in some of the country's largest cities.

The movement, made up of a disparate group that includes former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and National Bolshevik Party founder Eduard Limonov, speaks out against what it says are the authoritarian policies of Russian President Vladimir V. Putin.

The rallies have been modest in size, drawing no more than a couple of thousand demonstrators. Nevertheless, police have responded with huge displays of force. At an April 14 Other Russia rally in Moscow, 9,000 riot police violently dispersed demonstrators, at times clubbing marchers before throwing them into waiting police buses.

The march that Kasparov missed yesterday went ahead as scheduled in Samara, where Putin is holding a summit with European Union leaders.

EU concerns about Russia's poor track record on human rights and democracy-building were expected to make talks tense, and Kasparov's detention only made matters worse.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied any Kremlin involvement in the detention of Kasparov and his group.

Alex Rodriguez writes for the Chicago Tribune.

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