A massive rally took place in Moscow, with opposition activists occupying one of the capital’s main avenues. The officially sanctioned event followed two unauthorized protests that resulted in scuffles and arrests.
Throngs of anti-government activists showed up at Sakharov Avenue on Saturday for the opposition rally, permitted by the mayor’s office. Russia’s interior ministry estimated that over 20,000 people attended the event, while crowd-monitoring NGO White Counter put the number at 49,900.
Traffic was suspended on the avenue, leaving it temporarily pedestrianized. A security perimeter with metal detectors was also set up to ensure safety, while riot police were positioned nearby.
Russian rap musicians Face and Oxxxymiron who encouraged people to take to the streets joined the rally, as they had promised before the demonstration.
Lyubov Sobol, a member of an unregistered party led by Aleksey Navalny, tweeted that she had been detained ahead of the rally.
The interior ministry claims that “some organizers” of the rally informed them that Sobol and other protesters were preparing provocations.
Russian opposition groups have held unauthorized, large-scale protests for the past two weekends, after 57 independent candidates were barred from running for seats in Moscow’s 45-member municipal legislature. Local authorities cited irregularities such as fraudulent signatures as the reason for their disqualification.
Opposition activists – including close allies of anti-corruption activist Alexey Navalny – urged followers to take to streets and to storm the city council. Police increased security measures during both protests, which eventually resulted in over 2,300 people being detained.
While most of them were promptly released, some were charged with provoking mass unrest and for public disturbances. Separately, law enforcement agencies have opened a probe into the alleged laundering of $15 million by an anti-corruption NGO led by Navalny.
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