Russian police moved quickly to disperse peaceful protests against President Vladimir Putin’s military mobilization order on Saturday, arresting hundreds, including some children, in several cities across the vast country.
Police detained more than 700 people, including more than 300 in Moscow and about 150 in St. Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an independent website that monitors political arrests in Russia.
Some of those arrested are minors, OVD-Info said.
Demonstrations followed hours of protests on Wednesday after Putin announced a call-up of experienced and skilled army reservists, in a move to bolster his volunteer forces fighting in Ukraine.
The Defense Ministry said about 300,000 men would be called to active duty, but the order left a door open for many more to be called into service. Most Russian men aged 18-65 are automatically counted as reserved.
On Saturday, opposition party Vesna and supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny deployed police forces in cities where protests were planned. They moved quickly to arrest the protesters, most of whom were youths, before they could protest.
In Moscow, a heavy contingent of police roamed the city center where a protest was planned and checked pedestrians’ IDs. Officers detain those they deem suspicious.
A young woman climbed onto a bench and shouted “We are not cannon fodder!” Before the police took him away.
In St. Petersburg, a small group of protesters managed to gather and chant protest slogans before being rounded up.
In the eastern Siberian city of Novosibirsk, more than 70 people were detained after singing an innocuous Soviet-era song praising peace.
In another Siberian city, Irkutsk, police handed over summonses to the military recruitment office for men who took part in a demonstration.
Those who attempted to hold individual pickets, as permitted by Russian law, were also detained.
Police action came quickly after Wednesday’s protests broke up, when more than 1,300 people were detained in Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities on Wednesday.
Putin signed a hastily approved bill on Saturday that toughens punishments for soldiers who disobey orders from officers, desert or surrender to the enemy.