Russian protesters have marked the one-year anniversary of the mass arrest of anti-Putin activists. The crackdown is believed to have been partly responsible for sapping momentum from the movement.
Thousands of protesters gathered in Moscow's Bolotonaya Square on Monday to demand the release of prisoners who were arrested in the demonstration 12 months ago.
Accounts of the number of demonstrators who gathered on Monday varied, with police claiming it was about 7,000 and independent observers putting it at 15,000 to 20,000. Opposition leaders said as many as 50,000 had been involved.
The turnout was far less then the 100,000 or more believed to have marched on the eve of President Vladimir Putin's May 7 inauguration last year. As a result of more than 400 arrests at the time, two people have been jailed and 28 more are still awaiting trial.
Riot police assembled near to the Kremlin, but officials reported that no serious incident had taken place after the rally broke up at 9 p.m. local time. The state-run RIA news agency said that six people had been detained by police for disorder.
Protest leader and blogger Alexei Navalny led the chanting of slogans including "Putin is a thief" and "Russia will be free."
"We will drive him out, throw him from the Kremlin," said Navalny. "We don't want him to command us." Navalny himself is facing charges of embezzlement, for which he claims to have been framed. Putin has denied that numerous court proceedings against opposition leaders such as Navalny is politically motivated.
No march allowed
Prosecutors had warned that any attempt to hold a march would be quashed, with 5,000 police deployed for the event.
Since last year's arrests, the protest movement - which began amid allegations of vote-rigging in the December 2011 presidential vote - has been on the wane.
The protest was overshadowed by the death of a worker who was crushed by a loudspeaker earlier on Monday as he erected a stage for the event. The tragedy forced organizers to change their plans and erect a makeshift stage on the square.
In other protests, a banner reading "Freedom for the May 6 prisoners!" was unfurled from an apartment block in one of Moscow's main thoroughfares. One man was reported to have been arrested in connection with the matter. Names of protesters awaiting trial were also placed across street signs in the city of Yekaterinburg. Street names in Russia are frequently named after national heroes and heroines.
rc/lw (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)