Tens of thousands of demonstrators have taken to the streets of central Moscow to protest the upcoming city council ballot. Independent and opposition candidates have been barred from running.
Tens of thousands of people gathered in the Russian capital, Moscow, on Saturday to protest the exclusion of opposition and independent candidates from the city council vote.
It is the fourth consecutive weekend of demonstrations to protest the exclusion.
Among those barred from running are allies of top Russian President Vladimir Putin critic and opposition politician Alexei Navalny.
The White Counter, an NGO that tracks participants in rallies, counted 49,900 participants, while Moscow police said the figure was closer to 20,000.
The OVD-Info protest monitor said on social media that Russian police detained 72 people on Saturday over opposition protests staged in several cities.
The monitor said 55 people had been detained in St. Petersburg, 10 in Moscow and seven in Roston-on-Don.
Unlike the previous protests, the Saturday gathering in central Moscow was approved by city authorities. In the earlier demonstrations, thousands of people were detained, sometimes violently.
Protesters carried placards with slogans such as "Give us the right to vote!" and "You've lied to us enough," while others held up pictures of activists arrested at earlier protests.
"After what has been happening at the protests in Moscow in the last few weeks, it's impossible to stay home," one male protester told DW. "We have to show the authorities that they can't just ignore what the people thing."
"I am here to defend freedom of speech in Russia," another protester, a young woman in a red cape, told DW. "We should be able to say what we want and vote for who we want to. The authorities shouldn't be able to arrest normal people for no reason. It's pure lawlessness, and unfortunately we are seeing it across the whole country."
Russian rapper Oxxxymiron told DW he took part in the protest "because things have gone way beyond anything reasonable." He said he wanted "freedom for all the people who were arrested" in previous protests.
Lev Ponomaryov, a human rights activist in Russia, told DW: "This is a turning point in the political agenda, in Moscow and in the whole country. Young people are coming into politics. They want to be independent. They aren't interested in the old political parties. New political forces are being formed, new parties, new movements — and I can understand why."
Opposition politician detained
Most opposition candidates who have been banned from participating in the vote have been jailed for violating protest laws.
Although Saturday's rally was authorized and participants should not face detention, Navalny, who is currently in jail, called for supporters to walk peacefully through the city.
Germany has urged Russia to immediately release protesters detained during earlier rallies.
Popular electronic and rap musicians were set to play at the rally. One of Russia's most famous rappers, Oxxxymiron, appeared at the rally wearing a T-shirt with a photo of one of the jailed students, Yegor Zhukov.
law/jlw (AFP, AP, Reuters)