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BERLIN — Russian police arrested more than 40 people close to the Kremlin late Saturday at an unsanctioned protest in support of opposition television station Dozhd.
The flash mob rally on Manezh Square, situated a short walk from Moscow’s historic Red Square, was broken up by police who initially thought it was an anti-government demonstration connected with the Winter Olympics and Russia’s controversial anti-gay law.
The protestors, who carried umbrellas — a reference to the station’s name, which means “rain” — were arrested after they refused interior ministry police calls to disperse.
Footage screened on Dozhd’s Internet platform show uniformed police manhandling the mainly elderly demonstrators into a minibus as light fell snow. A French journalist for news site Slate.com was injured during scuffles, reportedly after being stuck by police. The footage showed her lying prone on a stretcher under light snow flurries before being placed in an ambulance and driven to hospital.
A woman of 72 was reported to be among those arrested, who under Russian law that forbids unsanctioned public protest meetings of more than two people, face fines of between up to $560.
Dozhd, which calls itself the ‘optimistic channel’ is regarded as one of the last independent sources of television news in Russia.
During the mass street protests against President Vladimir Putin during the winter of 2011/2012 the channel became known for its coverage of the opposition.
Last month a host of leading Russian satellite and cable operators including Trikolor and NTV Plus, turned off the station’s signal in what has become a highly politicized row over a controversial WWII-related opinion poll. Dozhd had asked viewers if they thought the massive sacrifice involved resisting the Nazi siege of Leningrad 70 years ago, in which hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, was worth it.
The pay-TV platforms said the question “insulted the feelings of war veterans” and pulled the station’s signal.
The Soviet Union’s wartime sacrifice is one of the few cultural themes that remains a unifying point for all Russians; the annual commemoration of Victory Day on May 9 is marked with near religious fervor.
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