Russian Police Vow Clampdown On Election Protesters Who Break The Law

Russian police will act "toughly" to prevent any violations of the law at protests ahead of the March 18 presidential election, a senior Interior Ministry official says.

The January 25 warning came three days ahead of nationwide demonstrations that opposition leader Aleksei Navalny is organizing in support of his call for a boycott of the election.

At a meeting with top Moscow police officials, First Deputy Interior Minister Aleksandr Gorovoi said that police would respect the right of citizens to hold public gatherings, as provided by the constitution and other legislation.

But he said that that they must "absolutely toughly...prevent violations of these laws," state-run news agency RIA reported.

Navalny has been barred from the ballot due to a financial-crimes conviction in a case he contends was fabricated to punish him for his opposition activity and keep him out of elections.

He has dismissed the election as the "reappointment" of President Vladimir Putin and is urging Russians not to vote.

With the Kremlin controlling the levers of political power nationwide after years of steps to suppress dissent and marginalize political opponents, it is virtually certain that the election will hand Putin a new six-year term.

Navalny and his backers are planning rallies in dozens of cities across Russia on January 28 to support his call for a boycott.

Police have repeatedly cracked down on demonstrations organized by Navalny in the past.

More than 1,000 people were detained in Moscow alone on March 26, 2017, when Navalny organized protests in some 100 cities nationwide.

Law enforcement authorities also cracked down hard at a protest in May 2012, the day before Putin -- who has been president or prime minister since 1999 -- returned to the Kremlin for his current term after a stint as head of the government.

With reporting by RIA and Reuters