EU concerned about "heavy-handed" Russian crackdown

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BRUSSELS, Nov 26 (Reuters) European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said today he was very concerned about a ''heavy-handed'' police crackdown on opposition protests in Russia at the weekend.

''I was very concerned to see reports of police harassment and arrests of politicians and peaceful demonstrators in Russia,'' Barroso said in a statement.

''The right to peaceful free speech and assembly are basic fundamental human rights and I very much regret that the authorities found it necessary to take such heavy-handed action.'' Russian riot police beat opposition activists yesterday and detained nearly 200 people at protest rallies against President Vladimir Putin a week before parliamentary elections.

Among those detained were Boris Nemtsov and Nikita Belykh, leaders of the Union of Right Forces (SPS) party who are both running in the December 2 election. They were later released.

The protests came a day after police detained opposition leader and former world chess champion Garry Kasparov in Moscow -- a move the United States condemned yesterday as part of ''aggressive tactics'' by authorities.

Putin's opponents accuse the Kremlin chief of cracking down on the freedoms won after the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union and of creating what they say is an unstable political system dependent on Putin alone.

Kremlin officials say the opposition marches are aimed at attracting attention in the West and that the activists are a mixed bag of marginal politicians with little public support.

REUTERS PD BD1715

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