The Russian people held their biggest protest in years in central Moscow in a show of strength and defiance after previous rallies were forcibly disbanded with mass arrests.
White Counters monitors reported that nearly 50 1,000 people attended the demonstration on Saturday, becoming the largest opposition rally since 2013.
Singing “dopuskai!” Or “let them pass,” citizens asked independent candidates to attend the Moscow municipal elections.
Shortly before the demonstration, masked police arrested Lyubov Sobol, an opposition activist who declared a hunger strike for his disqualification from the elections. Police said she was planning a "provocation" at the rally.
The demonstration was authorized by the city government, although some speakers called for a march on the presidential administration, possibly clashing with police in the late afternoon. Ten people were arrested in Moscow and 55 in St. Petersburg at 17h after the rally officially ended.
The crowd was the largest in an opposition protest in several years. Allied opposition monitors said they counted 49.900 people in protest at 16h, Moscow time. That would make the biggest manifestation of opposition since 2013. Police estimated the crowd at 20.000.
Municipal electoral fraud is an unlikely cause in Russia, and few months ago few expected the elections to attract widespread attention. But the disqualification of independent candidates and then thousands of arrests in unsanctioned rallies over the past two weeks served to bolster participation in Saturday's event.
"Everyone has their own reason for being here," said Maria Ostozheva, 53, standing in a plastic poncho on a rainy, cold summer afternoon. “Elections are just part of it. Nothing is changing. We need change.
Many participants made posters saying “I have a choice” or photos of those accused of inciting protests in the last two weeks. Russian police cracked down on protesters more forcefully than usual, opening criminal cases, checking debt and military records, and even starting a process to remove a child from their protesting parents. The case was later dropped.
"It's a police state," said a young protester who gave his name as Mikhail. “My parents know I'm here today. They support me. And I wouldn't forgive myself if I didn't protest. ”
The protest was attended by several prominent musicians, including rappers Face and Oxxxymiron, popular blogger Yuri Dud and others with wide appeal among younger Russians.
"I honestly don't understand politics," said rapper Face, whose real name is Ivan Dryomin. “But I believe freedom is life. And I hope we have one day.
Russian protesters have grown younger in recent years, with high school and college students growing up under Putin, more expressive in their calls for change.