TODAY: 68 people detained at Dec 31 rally including opposition leaders Nemtsov and Limonov; Viktor Bout reportedly rejects ‘plea bargain’; Khodorkovsky’s son speaks of personal vendetta against his father; Belarus continues opposition crackdown. Weather brings yet more chaos to Moscow region; officials feel Putin’s wrath; jets grounded after explosion kills three; odd snow; New Year’s Health warning
Police have detained at least 130 protesters at New Year’s Eve rallies in Moscow and St. Petersburg for the protection of the right to assemble. Rallies of this kind were held in more than 70 Russian cities on December 31. Opposition stalwart Boris Nemtsov was among 68 people arrested at an unauthorized rally in a central Moscow square. Other prominent activists Konstantin Kosyakin and Ilya Yashin received a ten-day and five-day jail sentence respectively, under the same charges of disobedience towards police. Apparently a Moscow court refused to hear the testimony of 13 witnesses who claimed that police had themselves infringed the law during the rally. Other Russia coalition leader Eduard Limonov was also held by police.
Ria-Novosti reports that arms dealer Viktor Bout claims he refused the offer of a lighter sentence in exchange for information about his contacts. This editorial argues that whilst the progress made with START is laudable, it remains crucial that arms reductions negotiations continue between the US and Russia. ‘Putin has personal feelings (of revenge) about my father’, says Pavel Khodorkovsky, the eldest son of the oil tycoon who now faces incarceration until 2017, in the Telegraph.
In a sign of continued post-election repression, Belarus has asked the OSCE to leave the country after its election monitors suggested electoral fraud might have taken place. Reporters Without Borders have claimed that the Belarusian KGB has been ransacking the homes of independent journalists since Lukaschenko won his fourth term.
A Tupolev-154 caught fire at an airport in Siberia, killing three people and injuring 39 others. It is the second emergency involving the Soviet-era jet in two months. The make has been grounded pending investigations. In the wake of ongoing electricity and water shortages brought on by freezing temperatures, Putin has publicly castigatedRussia’s energy minister and the Moscow region governor, reportedly forcing the latterto apologize to a vulnerable villager in front of TVcameras. The city of Samara is apparently enjoying the unusual sight of a beige Christmas. ‘One has to remember that ethanol is not the type of friend you want to celebrate the New Year with’: sage advice for New Year’s revelers from Russia’s top health official.
PHOTO: Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov displays a protocol paper as he is escorted to court in Moscow, Russia, Sunday, Jan. 2, 2011. Nemtsov was detained on Dec. 31, 2010 during a rally in defense of freedom of assembly. (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)