Europe

Tens of thousands defy crackdown in Moscow to stage political protest

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Up to 60,000 Russians have turned out in Moscow to rally against opposition and independent candidates being excluded from the city council ballot.

Tens of thousands of Russians have staged the country's biggest political protest for eight years, defying a crackdown to demand free elections to Moscow's city legislature.

Police rounded up scores of people after the demonstration in Moscow and at another rally in St Petersburg on Saturday and detained a leading opposition figure before it began. But the response from the authorities was milder than the previous week when more than 1,000 protesters were detained, sometimes violently.

Police detain a man during a protest in Moscow, Russia
Police detain a man during a protest in Moscow, Russia
Meduza

The White Counter monitoring group said up to 60,000 people had attended the Moscow rally, describing it as the biggest in Russia for eight years. Police put turnout at 20,000.

A month of demonstrations over elections for the Moscow city legislature have turned into the biggest sustained protest movement in Russia since 2011-2013, when protesters took to the streets against perceived electoral fraud.

Crowds at the rally in Moscow roared "down with the tsar!" and waved Russian flags. They are demanding that opposition-minded candidates be permitted to run in a city election next month after they were not allowed onto the ballot.

"The authorities have become brazen. It's time to defend our rights," said Natalya Plokhova, a recruiting consultant.

As the scenes unfolded in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin was shown on state television in a leather jacket at a biker show organised by the Night Wolves motorcycle club on the peninsula of Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Mr Putin and the Kremlin have so far avoided commenting on the unrest over the Moscow city elections.

OVD-Info, a monitoring body, said 229 people were arrested at Saturday's demonstration in Moscow and 81 in St Petersburg. A small number of other arrests took place in other cities, including Rostov-on-Don and Bryansk.

The Moscow protest was held with official permission, unlike last week's demonstration. Afterwards, hundreds of mostly young people chanting "Putin is a thief" began gathering near the presidential administration building, prompting masked riot police to ring off the area and detain dozens.

Authorities had earlier warned protesters not to continue protesting after the officially authorised event. Until that point the rally had largely passed without major incident, apart from isolated police detentions and a smoke grenade set off nearby.

Ahead of the rally, police detained hunger-striking opposition activist Lyubov Sobol. Masked men raided her office and the police said they had information she and other activists were plotting a "provocation" at Saturday's rally.

"I won't make it to the protest. But you know what to do without me....Russia will be free!" Ms Sobol wrote on Twitter.

Ms Sobol was released by police late on Saturday, she said in a video posted in Twitter, adding her detention was linked to a week-earlier rally.

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