Tens of thousands join Moscow protest rally
Tens of thousands of Russians defied miserable weather on Saturday to attend the largest opposition rally in several years, underscoring the Kremlin’s difficulties in stemming a month of pro-democracy protests.
About 60,000 people attended a gathering on Moscow’s Sakharov Avenue to protest against the Kremlin’s decision to bar opposition candidates from running for Moscow city council, according to the White Counter, an independent monitoring group. Police claimed 20,000 had attended the rally, which was approved by the authorities, but under heavy guard.
Several hundred people attempted to gather outside Russia’s presidential administration headquarters after the protest, where they met fierce resistance from riot police. More than 100 people were arrested, according to OVD-Info, a protest watchdog.
Despite concerted efforts to quash it, including the arrest of more than 2,400 people at previous protests and the jailing of nearly all the opposition’s leaders, the rally showed that the desire to protest is growing stronger amid popular anger at president Vladimir Putin, whose approval ratings are at their lowest level on record.
Though the election is relatively inconsequential, violent attacks by riot police on overwhelmingly peaceful protesters have galvanised people dissatisfied with Mr Putin’s rule.
Prosecutors charged a dozen rank-and-file protesters with participating in mass disturbances following the most recent ‘approved’ rally last month, which attracted over 20,000 people to Sakharov Avenue.
The Kremlin quashed the last major wave of opposition protests in 2012, when Mr Putin returned to the Kremlin after a four-year term as prime minister, by jailing several dozen people on similar charges and letting anger gradually dissipate.
Saturday’s rally appeared to show that people are increasingly willing to go out and protest to express their anger over falling living standards and police brutality.
Several celebrities not previously associated with the opposition, including comedian Danila Poperechny, rapper Oxxxymiron, and YouTube interviewer Yuri Dud, had said they would protest for the first time. Activists’ speeches made way for performances from rappers Face and Krovostok, as well as popular goth-electro duo IC3PEAK, themselves veterans of police attempts to shut down concerts and ban their music.
In another sign that the protest movement is spreading, solidarity rallies were held in several cities across Russia, despite provincial Russians’ long-held disdain for wealthy Moscow. Police arrested 70 people in St Petersburg and 7 in Rostov on-Don, according to OVD-Info.