Moscow anti-Putin rally draws 1,500

Moscow anti-Putin rally draws 1,500

Russian protesters today called for the release of activists they called political prisoners and urged the nation to unite against Vladimir Putin's crackdown on civil society.

About 1,500 citizens and members of the motley opposition movement packed a central Moscow square to protest the detention of people arrested after clashes on the eve of Putin's inauguration to a third term in May.

A Moscow demonstration on May 6 erupted into street battles with riot police in some of the worst violence since unprecedented protests against Putin's decade-long rule first shook Russia late last year.

Investigators said earlier today they had detained two more activists as part of their probe. Those detentions came on top of 14 activists already under investigation including 12 who have been arrested.

Today's rally grew into a show of support for other jailed activists including three members of all-girl punk band Pussy Riot who called for Putin's ouster in an unsanctioned Moscow cathedral performance in February.

Earlier this month the three women were ordered to stay in pre-trial detention until January. They could face up to seven years in prison.

Opposition activists told today's rally the authorities sought to intimidate society into silence and called on Russians to fight back.

"They declared a war on us!" leftist leader Sergei Udaltsov said.

Mark Feigin, one of Pussy Riot defence lawyers, called on those gathered to attend mass rallies scheduled for September and October when more protests are expected after a relative lull in summer.

"To their rejection of law there is a response of the street," he said.
Activists accuse the Kremlin of a ruthless crackdown on the nascent opposition movement since Putin's return for a historic third term.

An AFP correspondent estimated the turnout today at around 1,500. Police said 800 people had turned up, including 150 journalists and bloggers, and they said they had detained one man.

The crowd chanted "Russia without Putin" while slogans read "They are behind bars so that you live in fear" and "Down with the Inquisition".

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