MOSCOW (AP) — Thousands of protesters marched Saturday across downtown Moscow in the first major rally in three months against President Vladimir Putin, while defying the Kremlin's efforts to muzzle dissent.
“Russia without Putin!” and “We are the Government!” walked along the
capital’s tree-lined boulevards to a broad avenue where a rally will be
held later in the day. The demonstration reflected that opposition
sentiment remains strong despite the government’s efforts .
has taken a tougher course against the opposition since his inauguration
in May with a series of new repressive laws, arrests and interrogation
of activists. In August, a court handed two-year prison sentences to
three members of the punk band Pussy Riot for performing an anti-Putin
song inside Moscow’s main cathedral. Some activists carried big balloons
with balaclava masks painted on — the band’s trademark headwear.
day before the rally, parliament expelled an opposition lawmaker who
angered the Kremlin by joining the protest movement. The vote to oust
Gennady Gudkov over allegations of running a business in violation of
parliament rules — charges Gudkov called “a sham” — angered many,
possibly helping beef up the ranks of protesters.
The rally appeared to be as big as the last major protest in June, which attracted tens of thousands.
7,000 police officers were deployed to maintain security Saturday along
the route of the march, which has been authorized by the city
government, and a police helicopter was hovering overhead.