Russian riot police have broken up an Occupy-style protest against President Vladimir Putin, forcing dozens of people out of a central Moscow park where they had staged a sit-in round-the-clock for a week and detaining at least 15.
Dispersal of the makeshift encampment was the latest step in a government crackdown on protests over Putin's return to the presidency on May 7 for a six-year term following four years as prime minister.
Police converged on the site at Chistiye Prudy park in the early hours of the morning (local time) and told some 50 people who had spent the night to leave, citing a court order issued on Tuesday requiring them to clear the area.
Police quickly moved protesters toward a nearby subway station and detained at least one person in the park, witnesses said. A Reuters reporter saw police arrest at least 14 others near the subway station.
"People were ready to gather their stuff and move, but they did not give us time, they just started pushing people out," said Alisa Obraztsova, a protester in her 20s.
The small park was left strewn with cardboard boxes, sleeping mats, plastic chairs and other belongings. Workers in orange coats were preparing to clean the site.
Protesters had been camping there since May 9, seeking to maintain a permanent demonstration, and the size of the crowd varied from a few dozen to as many as 2,000.
A Moscow court, responding to a complaint filed by three residents near the site, issued an order on Tuesday ordering police to "take measures to stop the mass event and the violations of civil order".
Protest leaders have accused police of being behind the complaint.
Protesters said on Tuesday that police had told them they must leave by noon on Wednesday, but Obraztsova said the police who cleared the park said it had to be cleaned by noon.
President from 2000-2008 and prime minister until his inauguration, Putin has angered Russians who want change and fear the continuation of his rule will bring political and economic stagnation.
Police clashed with demonstrators on the eve of Putin's inauguration, beating some on the head with batons in the worst violence since a wave of protests prompted by suspicions of fraud in a December parliamentary vote won by his party.
Riot police detained more than 400 people at the May 6 protest and hundreds more on inauguration day, when they cleared streets near the path of Putin's convoy of peaceful protesters and bystanders, and grabbed people sitting at a sidewalk cafe.