MOSCOW - Agence France- Presse
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks at a meeting in a new building of the city court in St. Petersburg, Russia, Friday, June 8, 2012. AP Photo
Armed police raided the homes of Russia's top protest leaders on Monday in a show of force on the eve of a mass Moscow rally against President Vladimir Putin's rule.
The Investigative Committee said the raids targeted Alexei Navalny as well as Ilya Yashin and Sergei Udaltsov over a previous demonstration "that ended in mass disturbances." A so-called "March of Millions" that drew some 20,000 people onto the streets of Moscow on May 6 ended in the arrest of hundreds after protesters clashed with police.
Putin has since signed into law legislation dramatically raising fines and other penalties for those who break the already restrictive laws on organising and holding rallies.
Both Navalny -- a popular anti-corruption blogger who has not ruled out one day running for president -- and the ultra-leftist Udaltsov spent time in jail following the May rally in connection with another protest.
The Investigative Committee said police and investigators "intend to conduct 10 searches in all today." Moscow Echo radio said police also targeted the home of Ksenia Sobchak -- a prominent television personality and socialite who joined the protest movement after disputed December parliamentary elections.
The station's deputy editor reported from Sobchak's apartment building that armed police officers were stationed at the entrance and preventing others from getting in.
It was not immediately clear what the investigators were looking for.
Navalny's attorney Olga Mikhailova told Moscow Echo radio that "around 15 policemen burst" into his Moscow apartment on Monday morning and presented him with a search warrant.
"Initially, they tried to break down the door," she said.
Udaltsov said he had been ordered to appear for questioning on Tuesday only an hour before tens of thousands were expected to join a new "March of Millions" demonstration.
"They want to keep me from taking part in the "March of Millions," Udaltsov told Interfax.
Rights activist Lev Ponomaryov said Russia's feared security agencies were trying to intimidate the nascent movement and prevent mass attendance in order to avoid embarrassing Putin just a month into his third term.
"They are trying to disrupt the "March of Millions" and make sure fewer people come," Ponomaryov told Interfax.