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Riot police brutally clamped down on protests against increases
Riot police brutally clamped down on protests against increases in car import duties in Russia's Pacific port of Vladivostok with at least 60 people detained at the weekend.

Protests have swept cities across Russia, but were especially intense in Vladivostok, where calls for the government's resignation were heard. Riot police were accused of brutally dispersing protesters using batons and there were reports of protestors and reporters, who were briefly detained, being beaten.

Police appeared to be more prepared after last weekend's rallies, when some 3,000 people took to the streets blocking traffic on main thoroughfares and attempting to take over the airport.

Official police reports said on Monday 61 people had been briefly detained in Vladivostok over the weekend for obstructing traffic and other public order offenses. And six people were sentenced to four to six days in jail and fined 2,500 rubles ($90).

Some 500 people gathered in Vladivostok's central square and were met by riot police on Saturday, who accused the protestors of holding an illegal rally and requested them to disperse. Police began arresting protesters after they refused to disband, with some 26 people being taken to police stations.

On Sunday, riot police - shipped into the city from all over Russia, including from Moscow, 9,300 kilometers (5,750 miles) to the west - dragged protesters to police vans hitting them with batons. People on the central square danced around the New Year tree and others held slogans "How long will we endure this?!" and "Resignation to the government!"

Reporters from several leading Russian television channels were briefly arrested. Police were accused of damaging the camera of Nikolai Unagayev, a reporter with the Japanese NHK channel, and injuring his hand.

The Russian government's decision to raise import duties on used foreign cars and trucks by 50% and 100% respectively, designed to protect domestic producers and foreign companies involved in car production in Russia amid the global financial crisis, will come into force on January 12.

Some analysts argue the measure is unlikely to spur demand for Russian-made cars, but will hit consumers, who prefer foreign models. Some 90% of vehicles in Russia's Far East are used Japanese cars.

In Krasnoyarsk, East Siberia, some 500 protesters drove through the city center with posters reading "Putin, conduct a war with oligarchs, not the nation!" and "Raise quality, not prices!"

In Moscow, about 20 people were detained after an unauthorized picket when cars were driven round the city's Garden Ring, the capital's main ring road, with their lights on and hazard lights flashing.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin called on natural monopolies and state-run companies last Friday to buy Russian-made cars, and recommended private companies do likewise.

"Now that our producers are being forced to slash production, I think it is absolutely unacceptable to spend money on acquiring foreign cars," he said, adding that Russian-made cars included foreign cars assembled in Russia.

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