Over 1,300 arrests in Russia anti-mobilisation protests: NGO

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Moscow (AFP) – More than 1,300 people have been arrested in demonstrations across Russia against President Vladimir Putin’s announcement that civilians would be partially mobilized for fighting in Ukraine, a police monitoring group said on Wednesday.

Monitoring group OVD-Info counted at least 1,332 people arrested after Putin’s morning address to the nation at rallies in 38 different cities across the country.

The protests were the largest in Russia since demonstrations that broke out after Moscow announced military intervention in Ukraine in February.

AFP journalists in the center of the Russian capital Moscow said at least 50 people had been arrested by police in anti-riot gear on a main shopping street.

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In Russia’s former imperial capital, St. Petersburg, AFP reporters saw police surround a small group of protesters and arrest them one by one and load them onto a bus.

The demonstrators chanted “No mobilization!”

“Everyone is afraid. I’m for peace and I don’t want to have to shoot. But coming out now is very dangerous, otherwise many more people would come,” said protester Vasily Fedorov, a student who wears a pacifist symbol on his chest.

“I came with the intention of attending the rally but it seems they have already arrested everyone. This regime has condemned itself and is destroying its youth,” said Alexei, a 60-year-old resident who declined to give his last name.

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“Why are you serving Putin, a man who has been in power for 20 years?” A young protester shouted at a police officer.

“I came to say that I am against war and mobilization,” Oksana Sidorenko, a student, told AFP.

“Why are you making decisions about my future for me? I’m scared for myself, for my brother,” she added.

Alina Skvortsova, 20, said she hopes the Russians will soon understand the nature of the Kremlin’s offensive in neighboring Ukraine.

“Once they really understand it, despite the fear, they will take to the streets,” she said.

The Interfax news agency quoted Russia’s Interior Ministry as saying it had crushed attempts to “organize unauthorized gatherings”.

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All demonstrations have been halted and those who committed “violations” have been arrested and taken away by police pending an investigation and prosecution, she added.

Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said on Wednesday that Russia would initially mobilize around 300,000 reservists after Putin warned in a televised speech that Moscow should use all available military assets in Ukraine.

Flights from Russia were almost fully booked this week, airline and travel agent data showed on Wednesday, in an apparent exodus of people unwilling to join the conflict.

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