Moscow: Tens of thousands of people marched across downtown Moscow on Saturday in the first major protest in three months against President Vladimir Putin -- a sign of the opposition`s strength despite the Kremlin`s efforts to muzzle dissent.
The demonstration showed the opposition`s resilience, despite the government`s attempts to stem the protest movement that brought out more than 100,000 people last winter in a series of big street protests against Putin`s election to a third presidential term.
Hopes for a quick change that many protesters had during the winter have waned, but opposition supporters appeared ready to dig in for a long fight.
"We have to defend our rights, which we were deprived of, the right to have elections. We`re deprived of honest elections and an honest government," opposition activist Alexander Shcherbakov said. "I`m coming to show that and to demonstrate that the people are opposed. I`m opposed to illegitimate government and illegitimate elections."
Leftists, liberals and nationalists mixed with students, teachers, gay activists and others on the capital`s tree-lined boulevards in today`s rally, chanting "Russia without Putin!" and "We are the power here!" The protest remained peaceful as about 7,000 police officers stood guard along the route of the march, and a police helicopter hovered overhead.
Putin has taken a tougher course against the opposition since his inauguration in May with a series of new repressive laws, arrests and interrogation of activists. In August, a court handed two-year prison sentences to three members of the punk band Pussy Riot for performing an anti-Putin song inside Moscow`s main cathedral.