Thousands March in Moscow Protest Defying Authorities

Current Time TV is a Russian-language network led by RFE/RL in cooperation with VOA.

MOSCOW — Thousands of Russians defied authorities and marched in central Moscow, ignoring officials’ warnings and pressing demands to let independent candidates run in upcoming city council elections.

Police did not interfere with the August 31 protest, which was markedly smaller than previous ones.

However, camouflaged officers linked arms to keep marchers out of the road when demonstrators arrived at Pushkin Square — a symbolically important public park closer to the Kremlin. A heavy presence of detention buses and water-cannon trucks were visible on nearby side streets.

Neither police nor independent watchdogs reported any arrests or detentions from the action — in contrast to other recent protests in which thousands were detained, sometimes violently.

The August 31 action was the latest in a series of confrontations between liberal activists, and Moscow city authorities — and the Kremlin.

Demonstrators clapped and chanted “Russia Will Be Free!” and “Down With The Tsar!” (in a reference to President Vladimir Putin, who has been in power in Russia for two decades), as they walked along a leafy boulevard just a few kilometers north of the Kremlin.

A leading opposition figure and one of the organizers of the march, Lyubov Sobol, led people chanting “Freedom For Political Prisoners.”

“People of different ages have come out because everyone wants justice. They want Russia to be free and happy and to not drown in lawlessness and mayhem. We demand this and we will not back down,” she told reporters.

At Pushkin Square, the ending point for the march, participants milled around, occasionally yelling political chants. One group entered the crowd carrying a large banner citing the clause in the constitution that gives Russians the right to gather peacefully, and yelled “We Need Another Russia!”

Unofficial estimates put the crowd size in the low thousands.

Protesters also yelled “Let Them Through!” as they marched — a reference to the City Duma elections scheduled for Sept. 8.

The refusal by election officials to register some independent candidates has been the impetus for the protests that have been held weekly since mid-July.

However, they’ve also turned into a major challenge for the Kremlin and a reflection of growing impatience among Russians with President Vladimir Putin.

The weekly protests first erupted in July as election authorities blocked some independent candidates from registering to run on September 8.

The initial rallies drew tens of thousands of people in some of the largest political demonstrations seen in the country since 2012. Some, though not all, were authorized by officials ahead of time.

Police have violently dispersed several of the earlier demonstrations, some of which authorities described as “illegal mass gatherings.” More than 2,000 people have been detained, some preemptively, drawing international condemnation.

 



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