MOSCOW – Tens of thousands of Russians flooded a broad boulevard in the Russian capital on Saturday, calling for an end to political controls under President Vladimir Putin and the fight against police violence in recent weeks.
The biggest protest movement in Moscow in years has hit the capital in recent weeks as its loyalty to Putin has waned among Russians, whose standard of living has plummeted due to chronic economic problems and Western sanctions.
The protest organizers and an independent monitoring group gave about 50,000 people had joined the authorized march, which took place behind police ranks with hundreds of armored riot police. The police said 20,000 had participated in the rally.
Since July, weekly demonstrations have been held against the city authorities' decision to ban some independent opposition politicians from participating in the upcoming elections to the Moscow City Council for alleged violations while signatures were collected to make their candidacy.
But on Saturday, numbers increased after some of Russia's best-known Internet celebrities and musicians had promised to attend the demonstrations, prompting their millions of social media followers.
"I am outraged that Moscow is occupied by people in helmets and masks, and we can not get rid of them," said Alexei Polikhovich, a political activist who spoke from a platform to the tens of thousands of people under drizzling sky had gathered.
After hours of protests, crowds beyond the police gates to the presidential administration in the heart of the city, where according to OVD info at least 244 demonstrators and bystanders were arrested by the riot police.
Protests were held in other cities in support of Moscow, including in St. Petersburg, where 79 people were detained.
While the rallies of recent weeks have focused primarily on the upcoming city council elections, the protests on Saturday attracted opposition groups that were tired of it. "For a long time, I've watched the situation in this country worsen," Sergei said Pushkaryov (58), a businessman who said he protested against Putin's re-election in 2012, after being an election observer and seeing electoral violations in favor of the Kremlin leader.
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Much of the indignation over Russian social media last week was directed at detention of more than 1,000 people during earlier demonstrations and against city authorities who had investigated nearly 10 participants. In one case, Samariddin Radjabov was charged with mass riots after pelting policemen with a plastic bottle.
The authorities have used other means to hold the rallies. Some demonstrators arrested by the police in recent weeks have had their bailiffs checked by bailiffs, and the Russian State University of Humanities has warned students that participating in the rallies could lead to their expulsion.
Attempts by city and federal agencies to suppress protests with brutal police and criminal cases have failed. Despite the efforts of state media to ignore the protests and paint those present as traitors and hooligans, more people took part in the opposition rallies. Some commentators have even hinted that the US is paying the protesters to cause havoc in Russia.
Earlier this week, a Russian court threatened to take a child away from a couple who had attended a previous rally. The prosecution stated that the couple had put their child at risk by leaving it at a protest on 3 August with a third person idle of allowing activists to oppose electoral fraud in a 2011 parliamentary vote and a 2012 poll who re-elected Mr Putin as President after four years as Prime Minister.
This time, however, Russian authorities were anxious to interrupt the demonstrations as soon as possible to prevent them from reporting on other issues such as declining living standards and endemic corruption, which have provoked dissatisfaction in Russia. According to Levada Center, a Moscow-based independent pollster, support for Putin fell to 64% earlier this year, the lowest level since 2013, although it has since recovered to 68%. The ministry targeted the US and accused Washington to interfere in domestic politics. The ministry asked US Political Department head Tim Richardson to complain about a call to participate in the protests. A page on the US embassy website exposed the likely protest route and called on Americans to avoid the areas.
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