MOSCOW – The first major protest against President Vladimir Putin after a summer lull drew tens of thousands of people, determined to show that opposition sentiment remains strong despite Kremlin efforts to muzzle dissent.
The street protests broke out after a December parliamentary election won by Putin’s party through what observers said was widespread fraud, and they grew in strength ahead of Putin’s effectively unopposed election in March to a third presidential term.
Huge rallies of more than 100,000 people even in bitter winter cold gave many protesters hope for democratic change. These hopes have waned, but opposition supporters appear ready to dig in for a long fight.
Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others as they marched down Moscow’s tree-lined boulevards chanting “Russia without Putin!” Many wore the white ribbons that have become the symbol of the protest movement.
About 7,000 police officers stood guard along the route of the march.
Putin has shown less tolerance for the opposition since his inauguration in May. New repressive laws have been passed to deter people from joining protests. In August, a court handed down two-year prison sentences to three members of the punk band Pussy Riot for performing an anti-Putin song inside Moscow’s main cathedral.