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Opposition supporters defy ban, march on Moscow

Under the watchful eye of police, hundreds participated in the so-called “March against political repressions”, shouting out demands including: “Freedom to political prisoners!”. Moscow police said turnout was about 750, while Russian media gave a figure of several thousand people.

Demonstrations have been held almost weekly since July after authorities barred most opposition candidates from registering for elections next Sunday for the city parliament. Moscow prosecutors warned the latest rally, called by Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, was not authorised and participants would “bear responsibility.” Saturday’s gathering was noticeably calmer than previous ones where police had made thousands of sometimes violent arrests.

None were reported this time round, with police merely advising people to leave the street and keep to pedestrian zones. Criticised for their actions in recent weeks, police did not intervene on Saturday.

“I want political rights of Muscovites to be respected,” said march organiser Lyubov Sobol, whose bid to run in the election was rejected. “We’re a peaceful march, we even wait for the green light to cross the street. We’re the most law-abiding citizens of Moscow,” she said, walking with a crowd of supporters.

Opposition politicians had requested formal permission for Saturday’s march, but were turned down. The marching crowd also included women’s rights activists who held up a giant pink banner against domestic violence. In the past, the Moscow polls have generated little public interest.

But this summer they have sparked the biggest political crisis since a wave of protests in 2011-2012 against Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin. The biggest rally on August 10 gathered over 50,000 people. Authorities have launched a wide-ranging probe into “unrest” which could lead to long prison sentences, and have made thousands of arrests.

A probe has also launched into Navalny’s anti-corruption foundation, which has produced numerous videos alleging graft among officials at City Hall run by Putin’s ally, mayor Sergei Sobyanin. 

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