MOSCOW – Tens of thousands of Russians gathered this Saturday in Moscow under the falling rain to demand free elections, in what was the biggest show of force by the Russian opposition since the massive anti-government protests of 2012.
The demonstration, authorized by Moscow City Hall, gathered more than 49,000 protesters on downtown Sajarov Avenue, according to independent media, though police said the number was more like 20,000.
“We demand that the Sept. 8 (municipal) elections be canceled and new elections held,” the representative of opposition member Yulia Galiamina, who is currently under administrative detention for taking part in a non-authorized protest, said from the speakers’ platform.
To reach the place the demonstrators were gathered, people had to past through arches with metal detectors, so to enter Sajarov Avenue they had to stand in long lines for as much as half an hour.
Arrested before the demonstration began was opposition leader Liubov Sobol, a close collaborator of opposition leader Alexei Navalni.
Sobol, a jurist with Navalni’s Anti-Corruption Fund and a candidate for the Moscow Duma assembly, reported her detention in real time via social networks.
“I can’t get to the meeting now. But you know what to do without me. I’m proud of all those who came out (into the streets) today. Russia will be free,” Sobol wrote on her account.
Protests against the ban on opposition candidates in local elections began in Moscow on July 14.
The only authorized event was held on July 20 and attracted more than 20,000 people.
The two non-authorized protests on July 27 and Aug. 3 in Moscow ended with more than 2,000 participants detained and more than 100 arrested, some of whom could be sentenced to several years in prison for “massive disturbances,” a criminal case slammed by human-rights defenders and the independent press.
“The aggression of those in power is due to their having nothing else to offer society,” said the leader of the liberal Yabloko party, Seguei Mitrojin, as he got up on the platform.
The politician, who also had his application as a candidate for the Moscow assembly rejected, demanded the release of everyone charged with “massive disturbances” and that independent candidates be allowed to run in municipal elections.
The Moscow electoral commission had previously refused to allow 57 would-be candidates to apply, including some of the main opposition leaders like Dmitri Gudkov and Ilya Yashin, who are under administrative detention for organizing non-authorized protests.
According to the electoral authority, members of the opposition were stopped from including hundreds of dead citizens on their voter lists and almost 10,000 people who never existed.
Despite the pouring rain, a number of artists performed on Sajarov Avenue this Saturday, including the rapper Face and the IC3PEAK group, while millions followed the proceedings on social networks.
“Freedom of choice is basic. I hope that one day we will have it,” said the musician Face between a couple of numbers.
While these acts were being staged in Moscow, 80 people were arrested in Saint Petersburg at an event expressing solidarity with the Moscow opposition, according to the specialized Web site OVD-Info.
The same source said that more than 100 people had been detained in Moscow, including an activist who tried to stir up a protest around the headquarters of the Russian presidency.
Several hundred Muscovites answered the call to “take a walk” through the downtown area after the meeting and to march toward the presidency, which was surrounded by police who proceeded to arrest a great many of the protesters.
Commenting on the results of the gathering, one of the organizers of the Moscow meeting, Ilya Azar, said the number of protesters showed that citizens want the protests to continue.
“It shows that people are not afraid and are ready to go into the streets. The protests will go on,” he said.
Another of the organizers, Yelena Rusakova, said on Twitter that the participation of some 50,000 people despite the “cold and rain” was something “wonderful.”
“Moscow showed it has character,” said Rusakova, whose candidacy for the Moscow Duma was also rejected by the electoral commission.