Up to 50,000 people braved the cold and snow on Saturday to turn out for the largest ever protest against the rule of prime minister Vladimir Putin.
Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin in central Moscow, was filled to overflowing with thousands standing shoulder-to-shoulder on the bridges and along the riverfront leading to the site. Tens of thousands of police and interior troops were deployed around the area, but protesters had been allowed by officials to gather in an unprecedented show of discontent.
Shouts of “Russia without Putin!” and “Freedom!” were mixed with demands that the Kremlin annul a disputed parliamentary election that saw Putin’s United Russia party gain nearly 50% of the vote despite widespread accusations of fraud.
“I demand new elections,” said Maxim, 26, an economist. “If they don’t agree, we will continue to come out. The people have woken up – they see there’s a point to going out into the streets and expressing what they don’t agree with.”
Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said a further protest would be held on Christmas eve if the Kremlin refused to cancel the election results. The overwhelmingly young crowd organised via social networking sites and exceeded early estimates of 30,000.