ReutersMOSCOW (Reuters) — A few thousand Russians took to the streets of central Moscow on Saturday to demand free elections to the capital’s city legislature on Sept. 8, defying a ban that has been enforced with violent detentions during previous protests.
Weeks of demonstrations over elections for the city legislature have turned into the biggest sustained protest movement in Russia since 2011-2013, when protesters took to the streets against perceived electoral fraud.
Chanting “Russia will be free!” and “This is our city!” protesters marched through one of Moscow’s thoroughfares. Reuters witnesses estimated their number at a few thousand, while Moscow police said only 750 attended the event, which was not sanctioned by the government, making it illegal.
The demonstrators have been demanding that opposition candidates be allowed to stand in the election. Around 30 of them — mostly running as independents — have been dropped from the race by the election commission, which said they had too many fake voter signatures.
The city council is dominated by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s allies.
Protesters are now also calling for the release of activists detained over earlier rallies. Opposition activist Lyubov Sobol on Saturday described the arrests as “mayhem,” blaming it on the city government and Putin’s office.
“Sobyanin must resign,” she said at the rally, referring to Moscow mayor and Putin ally Sergei Sobyanin.
The Kremlin has shrugged off the protests as insignificant, but supported the heavy-handed police response. Russia’s state communications watchdog last month asked Google to stop advertising “illegal mass events” on its YouTube video platform.