Russian police have detained four opposition leaders ahead of a banned protest against President Vladimir Putin. The rally was to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the biggest ever demonstrations against the regime.
The leftist Sergei Udaltsov and the anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny (pictured above) were detained Saturday at the central Lubyanka Square in Moscow.
All four were released hours later without charges.
Estimates ranged from several hundred to several thousands protesters attending the rally.
"I don't know how many people are here but I am proud of each and every one of those who came here," Navalny said before being detained. "The main thing is that people are here, that they are expressing their view and showing that they exist."
The protest, called the "March for Freedom," was not authorized by city authorities, but demonstrators braved the risk of arrest and the cold. Protesters chanted "Down with the police state," and "Free political prisoners."
Demonstrators in the square laid flowers before the Solovetsky Stone, a memorial commemorating victims of Soviet-era political oppression.
Police were out in force, wearing flak jackets and helmets, and telling people to leave in an attempt to keep order.
In total, around 40 people were arrested during the protest in Moscow. More than 20 people were also arrested at a similar rally in St. Petersburg.
One year later
The rally comes a year after the largest protests in Putin's 13 years in office, stemming from perceived unfair parliamentary elections.
Putin's opponents say his United Russia party benefited from vote-rigging.
The protests reached their peak around the end of last year, but waned after Putin won nearly two-thirds of votes in the March election. The victory allowed him to return to the presidency after serving four years as prime minister.
Leading opposition figures have accused Putin of cracking down on dissent and limiting freedom of expression since he took office in May. The president denies these allegations.
dr/mkg (Reuters, dpa, AFP)