Tens of thousands of people defied a crackdown by Russian authorities to stage what is believed to be the country’s biggest political protest for eight years.
Demonstrators shouted “down with the tsar!” and waved the national flag as they took to the streets of Moscow to demand free elections to the city legislature.
The rally took place a week after more than 1,000 protesters were detained amid violent confrontations with riot police in the capital.
Up to 60,000 people took part in the officially-sanctioned demonstration, according to monitoring groups, while police put the turnout at 20,000.
At the end of the rally hundreds of young people surged towards the presidential administration building while chanting ”Putin is a thief”.
Masked riot police ringed off the area before moving in to make arrests. OVD-Info, a monitoring body, said a total of 340 people were detained across the country, including 244 in Moscow and 81 in St Petersburg.
The protests over elections for the Moscow city legislature have turned into the biggest sustained protest movement in Russia since 2011-2013, when people took to the streets to demonstrate against perceived electoral fraud.
They are demanding that opposition candidates be allowed to stand in a city election next month. The vote is seen as a dry run for a national parliamentary election in 2021 but authorities say the opposition candidates failed to collect enough genuine signatures to register.
“The authorities have become brazen. It’s time to defend our rights,” said Natalya Plokhova, a recruiting consultant.
Police detained hunger-striking opposition activist Lyubov Sobol before the rally, alleging that he and other activists were plotting a “provocation”.
“I won’t make it to the protest. But you know what to do without me … Russia will be free!” Sobol wrote on Twitter.
Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny and at least seven of his allies are already in jail for breaking protest law.
As the scenes unfolded in Moscow, President Vladimir Putin was shown on state television in a leather jacket at a biker show organised by the Night Wolves motorcycle club on the peninsula of Crimea which Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.
The 66-year-old former KGB intelligence officer, whose fourth term in office runs until 2024, has so far avoided commenting on the unrest.
Source: The Independent /Additional reporting by Reuters