MOSCOW (AP) - Tens of thousands of people marched across downtown Moscow today in the first major protest in three months against President Vladimir Putin — a sign of the opposition’s strength despite the Kremlin’s efforts to muzzle dissent.
The demonstration showed the opposition’s resilience, despite the government’s attempts to stem the protest movement that brought out more than 100,000 people last winter in a series of big street protests against Putin’s election to a third presidential term.
Hopes for a quick change that many protesters had during the winter have waned, but opposition supporters appeared ready to dig in for a long fight.
“We have to defend our rights, which we were deprived of, the right to have elections. We’re deprived of honest elections and an honest government,” opposition activist Alexander Shcherbakov said. “I’m coming to show that and to demonstrate that the people are opposed. I’m opposed to illegitimate government and illegitimate elections.”
Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others on the capital’s tree-lined boulevards in today’s rally, chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “We are the power here!” The protest remained peaceful as about 7,000 police officers stood guard along the route of the march, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Putin 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.