Thousands rally at Moscow poll protest

Moscow, August 10 

Tens of thousands of opposition supporters rallied in Moscow on Saturday after mass police detentions at recent protests that have been among the largest since President Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012.

On a cold rainy afternoon, protesters huddled under umbrellas on the central Prospekt Andreya Sakharova street, where city authorities had given permission for the rally to take place but deployed a massive police presence, including officers in riot gear. The White Counter, an NGO that tracks participants in rallies, counted 40,000 people, while Moscow police gave a much lower attendance figure of 20,000.

In recent weeks, thousands have attended street protests calling for free and fair elections after the exclusion of several opposition figures, including allies of top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, from local Moscow polls next month.

Riot police and the national guard detained more than 2,000 at the previous two rallies, which were not authorised by city officials.

On Saturday, some protesters carried placards with slogans such as “Give us the right to vote!” and “You’ve lied to us enough” while others held up pictures of activists arrested at earlier demonstrations.

“I’m outraged by this injustice at every level. They’re not letting candidates stand who have collected all the necessary signatures. They are arresting people who are protesting peacefully,” said one protester, Irina Dargolts, a 60-year-old engineer.

“It feels like the country is a prisoner and its citizens are hostages... No one represents the people,” said Dmitry Khobbotovsky, an activist for the Open Russia movement funded by Kremlin foe and former oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Most opposition candidates who have been banned from participating in the vote have been jailed for violating protest laws. One of the speakers at the rally was the wife of opposition politician Dmitry Gudkov, who is serving a 30-day sentence. “Each of us has the right to run for office and they are very afraid of that,” said Valeriya Gudkova. — AFP