MOSCOW : Police detained hundreds of protesters at an opposition gathering in Moscow on  Saturday, as authorities upped the pressure on top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny by launching a criminal probe into his anti-graft group.

Crowds of people marched in the capital's centralised boulevards for a protest ''stroll'' over the refusal by officials to let a number of opposition candidates run in September polls for city parliament seats.

Most of these candidates and opposition leaders, including Navaliny, are being held by police following a protest rally last week-end, in which 1,400 demonstrators were detained - one of the biggest crack downs in years.

On Saturday last, riot police were deployed in large numbers in central Moscow, some shops and cafes were shut down, metal barriers were erected and the mobile Internet was down for many hours.

About 600 people were detained during the course of the rally, police and the independent protest monitor OVD-info said. Some were journalists with accreditations

Police said only 1,500 people took part in the gathering. Some correspondents said the figure was much bigger but a precise estimates was difficult as the protest was spread over several neighborhoods.

Journalists observed dozens of arrests along the route of the protest, the lines of police broke up the flow of the crowd by blocking with human chain and grabbing people indiscriminately.

Luabov Sobol, an ally of the opposition leader Navalny and currently three weeks into a hunger strike after being barred from taking part in the election, was dragged from a taxi and detained as she sat off for the rally.

Many opposition leaders who attempted to run in the polls next month argue that the authorities have arbitrarily declared signatures they gathered to qualify invalid.

People in the crowd on Saturday said they just wanted the opposition to have a chance to compete.

Navalny and other protest leaders  say corruption is rife in the capital. His anti-corruption foundation  FBK this week published a new investigation into the affairs of a senior official, accusing her of selling prime Moscow property to family members at  rock-bottom prices.

But on Saturday. FBK itself became a target of a probe into ''laundering'' a billion roubles [$15.3 million].

Employees of the Foundation for Fighting Corruption [FBK] ''received a large sum money from third parties which they knew was procured illegally,'' investigation claimed. [AFP]


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