MOSCOW — A Moscow court Sunday sentenced Russia's former first deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov to 15 days in prison for taking part in an unsanctioned New Year's Eve opposition rally, Interfax reported.
Moscow police detained nearly 130 people in Moscow and Saint Petersburg during a series of traditional end-of-month demonstrations that aim to assert Russians' constitutional right to gather in public places.
The 300-strong Moscow crowd chanted slogans in support of the jailed Kremlin critic and former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, whose jail term was extended by six years last week, and called for broader political freedoms.
City authorities allowed the protesters to assemble on a small section of a central Moscow square a few blocks from the Kremlin.
But Russian reports said Nemtsov -- who oversaw social reforms under the administration of former president Boris Yeltsin -- and a group of other opposition leaders tried to break through the police ranks, leading to their immediate arrest.
"This is an absolute disgrace," Nemtsov told Echo of Moscow radio after the sentencing.
"They are trying to scare the opposition," Olga Shorina, a spokeswoman for the tiny Solidarity movement that includes Nemtsov and other prominent opposition figures, told the Interfax news agency.
Shorina said Nemtsov was convicted of disobeying police orders.
Police also detained Eduard Limonov, an opposition writer and leader of the radical National Bolshevik Party, near his Moscow home about an hour before he and his supporters were to hold an unsanctioned rally alongside the authorised one.
Shortly after his arrest, a court sentenced Limonov to 15 days in prison for insulting police during his detention.
Another opposition activist, Konstantin Kosyakin, was also sentenced on Sunday to 10 days in prison after being detained during the protest.
Opposition leaders call regular demonstrations on the 31st day of the month in honour of Article 31 of the constitution, granting Russians freedom of assembly.
Moscow authorities had until October 31 refused to sanction such rallies, prompting frequent scuffles with the police. But that policy changed with President Dmitry Medvedev's appointment of a new mayor for Moscow.
There were no reports of violence during Friday's demonstrations.
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