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Thousands detained after tough crackdown on Moscow rally

Law enforcement officers detain a participant of a rally calling for opposition candidates to be registered for elections to Moscow City Duma, the capital's regional parliament, in Moscow, Russia July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov

Russian police arrested almost 1,400 people as they gathered in Moscow at the weekend to demand open elections, the biggest crackdown on a rally in the country in years.

Some 3,500 people took part in the unauthorised protest on Saturday, according to official figures, after authorities blocked prominent opposition candidates from taking part in city elections.

OVD-Info, an organisation that monitors protests, reported Sunday that 1,373 people were detained.

It said this was the highest number since mass demonstrations in 2012, when tens of thousands protested President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.

'Disproportionate' force

The EU in a statement denounced the "disproportionate use of force against peaceful protesters," which it said undermined "the fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly".

Amnesty International also condemned what it said was the use of excessive force by the police.

After a massive rally last week investigators raided the homes and headquarters of a number of disqualified candidates. Top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny was jailed for 30 days for calling the fresh protest.

Several would-be candidates were detained before or during the meeting on Saturday. Among them was Ilya Yashin, who called for another protest next weekend.

The new protests come amid wider public anger over declining living standards that has hit Putin's approval ratings.

Elections to Moscow's 45-seat legislative body, currently controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, are due to be held in September.

Macron to host Putin ahead of G7

French President Emmanuel Macron confirmed Saturday he had invited his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin for talks on August 19, days before hosting a G7 summit.

Following the bilateral talks, leaders from the world's seven most developed nations are set to gather in the southwestern French city of Biarritz on August 24-26.

France holds the 2019 presidency of the G7, which also includes Britain, Canada, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States.

Russia was ejected from what used to be the G8 in 2014 over its annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

In late June, Macron had already announced he planned to meet Putin after the two leaders had a long conversation.

"I believe that within the framework of the G7, it's essential that we take this initiative (with Russia)... in order to explore all the forms of cooperation on key topics of destabilisation or conflict, without naivety but without closing the door," he had said at the time.