Unlike previous rallies, which were met with harsh police crackdown that led to thousands of detentions and violent beatings with truncheons, Saturday ‘s demonstration was approved by the government and saw only scant confrontations between riot police and protesters. Nonetheless, more than 225 demonstrators were detained, almost 150 of them in Moscow and more than 80 at a second protest in St. Petersburg.
The many tens of thousands of protesters ignored the rain and unseasonably cold weather to gather in Moscow’s famed Sakharov Square, just off the capitol city’s central Garden Ring road, chanting slogans “Russia will be free!” and “Release the political prisoners!”
Moscow ‘s protest movement for fair elections began in early July, after the city ‘s elections commission rejected several opposition candidates ‘ applications to run in a Sept. 8 vote for the 45- seat Moscow City Duma, the capital ‘s city council. The current council is dominated by the pro- Kremlin United Russia party, which the opposition accuses of engaging in corrupt schemes that pilfer city budget funds.
Hundreds of protesters gathered daily in front of Mayor Sergei Sobyanin ‘s office until July 20, when a government- sanctioned demonstration organized by opposition candidates rejected from the ballot and Kremlin critic Alexey Navalny brought out more than 22, 000 demonstrators.
That shook the Kremlin, as it watched a protest about local elections morph into an anti- government demonstration with chants of “Putin is a thief !” echoing through Moscow ‘s central streets.
Demonstrations in support of Moscow ‘s protests were also held in several other Russian cities, including St. Petersburg.