8 Russians convicted of rioting during 2012 Moscow protest against Putin's return as president

The Associated Press

Defendants stand in a glass cage during a trial in Zamoskvoretsky District Court in Moscow, Russia, Friday, Feb. 21, 2014. The defendants face trial for their role in a protest in Moscow on May 6, 2012 that ended in violent clashes with police. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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By LAURA MILLS, Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) — A Moscow judge on Friday convicted eight anti-government protesters of rioting during a 2012 protest against Vladimir Putin, following a trial seen as part of the Kremlin's efforts to stifle dissent.

The judge pronounced the defendants guilty of a wide range of charges at the start of her verdict statement Friday. Sentencing was postponed until Monday.

Outside the court building, several hundred people, including two freed members of the punk band Pussy Riot, rallied in support of the defendants, and cries of "Freedom!" and "Shame!" wafted into the courtroom. Police arrested about 50 people.

The May 6, 2012, protest on the eve of Putin's inauguration for a third presidential term turned violent after police restricted access to Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin, where the protesters had planned to gather. Some of the blocked demonstrators hurled bottles and pieces of asphalt at police, who struck protesters with clubs and arrested more than 400.

The Bolotnaya protest followed bigger rallies against Putin that attracted an estimated 100,000 onto the streets of Moscow, the largest show of discontent since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

After his inauguration, Putin introduced tough anti-protest laws that sharply hiked fines for participants in unapproved demonstrations and imposed restrictions on non-government organizations.

"I came here because I was there too on May 6," said Diana Tishino, a manager in an IT firm who was standing outside the court. "I hope this (the verdict) will be some kind of impetus — maybe not for a ton of people, but for the most active ones."

Twenty-nine Bolotnaya protesters faced criminal charges, but 11 were released as part of a December amnesty that was widely seen as an attempt by Putin to improve Russia's image before the Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. Others have already been convicted or are still facing trial.

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