Russian police detain 50 anti-Putin protesters

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ST PETERSBURG, Russia, Nov 25 (Reuters) Russian riot police today beat opposition activists, detaining about 50 people ahead of a march against President Vladimir Putin in St Petersburg, a Reuters reporter said.

They were detained when they left the offices of the liberal Yabloko party, in the centre of Russia's second city.

Riot police beat about a dozen of them with batons and then pushed nearly 50 activists into waiting buses.

''It is very aggressive. I cannot understand why they do these things,'' Nikita Belykh, leader of the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS) party, told Reuters.

Police also tried to arrest Belykh but he produced identity papers showing he was a candidate in Russia's December 2 parliamentary election and was left alone.

Putin's opponents plan to march through the centre of St Petersburg on Sunday. The authorities have not given permission for the march and streets in the centre of the city have been blocked by riot police.

The march is being organised by Other Russia, a wide movement of Kremlin opponents, including free-market parties Yabloko and SPS.

Other Russia activists accuse Putin of cracking down on the freedoms won after the fall of the Soviet Union and of creating what they say is an unstable political system dependent on Putin alone.

Alexander Shurshev, a spokesman for the local Yabloko party, said he had been beaten up by police when he was detained.

''I was beaten up as they detained me,'' he said. ''In front of my very eyes they beat others up too.'' Kremlin officials say the marches are aimed at attracting the attention of the West and that the demonstrators are a mixed bag of marginal politicians with little public support.

Putin, ranked by opinion polls as the most popular politician in Russia, is credited by supporters for cementing political stability and presiding over the longest economic boom for a generation.

The former KGB spy has vowed to step down as president next year after his second consecutive four-year term in office.

But he has said he will use the United Russia party to preserve influence after he steps down. He is running for the party in the December election.

REUTERS SYU KP1501

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