Russian panel eyes alleged foreign interference in protests

International

Police detain an activist during a protest in the center of Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Aug. 17, 2019. People rallied Saturday against the exclusion of some city council candidates from Moscow’s upcoming election. (AP Photo)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia’s lower house of parliament on Monday set up a commission to examine alleged cases of foreign interference in connection with a series of protests against the Moscow city council election, while President Vladimir Putin defended the harsh police crackdown on some of the demonstrations.

The commission established by the State Duma holds its first session on Aug. 30.

This summer, thousands of people have demonstrated — in both authorized and unsanctioned protests — against the election board’s exclusion of some opposition and independent candidates from the Sept. 8 election.

A sanctioned demonstration in August attracted an estimated 60,000 people, the largest protest gathering in several years. Two of the unauthorized demonstrations were harshly broken up by police, which detained more than 2,000 people.

The persistence of the protests apparently reflects growing disenchantment with Russia’s tightly controlled politics in which dissent is suppressed or ignored.

Andrei Isayev of the dominant United Russia party in the Duma said the interference includes a U.S. Embassy travel warning that publicized the time and venue for the unauthorized protests. He also cited alleged calls by German broadcaster Deutsche Welle on social media to participate in the protests.

In France for a meeting with President Emmanuel Macron, Putin said he didn’t want Russia to see the kind of rioting and other violence that engulfed France during yellow vest protests against economic injustice and Macron’s presidency.

“I’m a guest here and it’s awkward for me to talk about this but … we all know the situation with the yellow vests, during which according to our numbers 11 people died, 2,500 people were injured,” he said.

“Citizens have a right to peaceful demonstrations according to the law, and authorities should ensure the realization of these rights. But no one, not the authorities or any group of citizens, has the right to violate existing laws,” Putin said.

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Angela Charlton in Paris contributed to this story.

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