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Tens of thousands rally in Moscow in support of candidates barred from city council election

Rainy weather didn’t deter crowds of opposition activists from protesting in central Moscow over the upcoming city council vote. The peaceful rally was, however, followed by calls for unauthorized protests, leading to arrests.

Throngs of protesters armed with umbrellas showed up at Sakharov Avenue on Saturday for an opposition rally that, this time, was planned in consultation with the city authorities.

The spacious, heavily guarded venue – usually a busy street – and some celebrity appearances ensured a high attendance, even though it also meant tediously long queues at the metal detectors installed by police.

Russia’s Interior Ministry estimated that over 20,000 people attended the event at its peak. Meanwhile, crowd-monitoring NGO White Counter assessed the number to be even higher – at 49,900.

The rally, which gathered activists from a broad spectrum of the Russian opposition, centered around two short slogans. One being “Let them run,” referring to the opposition candidates who’ve been suspended from the Moscow City Council election in September over alleged signature-gathering fraud. The other was “Set them free,” a demand for the release of activists who’d been arrested for organizing or taking part in previous, unauthorized protests.

The rain stopped shortly after the rally began, but the weather remained gloomy. Police in riot gear surrounded the gathering, controlling the crowd’s flow but maintaining a hands-off approach, even in the face of the anti-police taunts booming from loudspeakers.

Russian national flags and the banners of various political groups in their hands, demonstrators chanted “We are the power here!” and “Russia will be free!”

Influential Russian celebrities, who earlier encouraged people to take to the streets, joined the rally as promised. Rapper Oxxxymiron said that he came because “everyone has his own boiling point.” He was sporting a t-shirt with the portrait of one the detained activists. The host of the most popular interview channel on Russian YouTube, Yury Dud, was also spotted in the crowd.

Some influencers got up on stage, including another popular rapper, Face, who performed at the gathering. “I’m a man who doesn’t like when one person rules over another. Frankly speaking, I would’ve never gone to vote myself. But I’m here today so that my people could have freedom and the right to choose,” he said.

Controversial electronic band, IC3PEAK and Russian rap veterans Krovostok also performed sets at Sakharov Avenue. These went ahead despite city authorities having earlier banned live performances at the rally, as they hadn’t been agreed-on in advance. The police didn’t interfere.

The rally proceeded without serious incidents. The live broadcast by RT’s Ruptly video agency showed a smoke bomb thrown into a trash bin, but it was swiftly extinguished.

Just ahead of the rally, news broke that Lyubov Sobol, a member of an unregistered party led by anti-corruption blogger Aleksey Navalny, was detained after armed police stormed and searched her headquarters.

The Interior Ministry claimed that “some organizers” of the rally informed them that Sobol and other protesters were planning provocations. Elena Rusakova from the opposition party Yabloko then accused the police of lying, listing the organizers who, she said, did not report Sobol to authorities in a Facebook post.

But the concerns, it seems, turned out to be valid, as a member of Sobol’s team urged the crowd to “take a walk” after the rally. He was detained as soon as he got off stage.

The police earlier warned that any marches taking place separate from the protest would be illegal and would be met with an appropriate response.

Dozens defied the warning, walking in groups through the city center, chanting anti-government slogans after the rally ended. Around 300 gathered near the Heroes of Plevna monument not far from the Kremlin.

Police responded with arrests, reporting around 140 detained as of Saturday evening. Footage of detentions showed a heavy police presence in central Moscow.Russian opposition groups have held several unauthorized protests since 57 independent candidates were barred from running for seats in Moscow’s 45-member municipal legislature.

Also on rt.com Over 130 detained in Moscow after protesters break off from peaceful rally to walk the streets

Local authorities cited procedural irregularities, such as fraudulent signatures as their reasons. Opposition activists –including close allies of Navalny– urged followers to take to streets and to storm the city council. The attempts resulted in a strong police response during both protests, which ended up in over 2,300 people detained in total.

While most of the people were promptly released, some were charged with provoking mass unrest and for public disturbances. Separately, law enforcement agencies have opened a probe into the alleged laundering of $15 million by an anti-corruption NGO led by Navalny.

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