Thousands of Russian opposition activists rallied in downtown Moscow on the anniversary of a protest that turned violent last year, calling on authorities to release people held for allegedly organizing that event.
About 8,000 people gathered on Bolotnaya Square at the height of the demonstration, the Moscow police department said on its website. The rally comes on the eve of the anniversary of President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin for a new six- year term after facing down the biggest protests of his 13-year- rule.
Demonstrators chanted slogans including “Russia without Putin” and “Freedom for political prisoners” before the event began with a minute of silence for a worker who was killed in an accident earlier today while setting up the stage. Organizers led the protest from a smaller, improvised stage.
“We consider Putin’s usurpation of power a crime,” Boris Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister, said during the rally.
The protest comes after a crackdown on the opposition. Two activists have been jailed for participating in last year’s May 6 protests. Several people are accused of organizing and financing the event. A prominent Putin opponent, Alexey Navalny, is on trial for fraud charges that he has called politically motivated.
More than 400 people were detained at last year’s event after protesters began throwing rocks and flares, police said. The 2012 event was a “planned provocation,” former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov said.
According to a Levada Center poll published April 11, 55 percent of Russians don’t want Putin to seek a new six-year mandate in 2018, while only 22 percent would support him. The survey was conducted March 22-25 among 1,601 people and had a margin of error of 3.4 percentage points.
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