Dozens arrested at huge opposition rally in Moscow

Almost 50 000 participated, demanding free and fair elections

Nearly 50,000 people took part in an anti-government rally in Moscow on Saturday, carrying 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 demonstrations. The move marked one of the largest authorised protests since President Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin in 2012.

Demonstrators crowded the central Prospekt Andreya Sakharova street, where city authorities deployed a massive police presence, including officers in riot gear, after giving permission for the rally to go ahead. According to the White Counter, an NGO that tracks participants in rallies, 49,900 people participated. The Moscow police, however, gave a much lower attendance figure of 20,000. Of these police in Moscow said they detained more than 130 people. A further 80 were arrested in Russia's second-largest city of Saint Petersburg, according to OVD-Info, an NGO that monitors detentions at protests.

In recent weeks, thousands have attended street protests calling for free and fair elections after the exclusion of several opposition figures, including allies of top Putin critic Alexei Navalny, from local Moscow polls next month. Most of the figures banned have now been even jailed for violating protest laws. Most recently, Navalny's associate, Boris Zolotarevsky, was detained after telling protesters on Saturday to proceed to Putin's administration offices.

The latest rally was the first authorised by city officials and came as authorities mounted their harshest attack yet on Navalny's team, focusing on his anti-corruption foundation which publishes investigations of officials close to Putin. One of the foundation's lawyers, Lyubov Sobol, was as a result detained Saturday at her campaign office by police in riot gear, she wrote on social media. Riot police also raided the studio where Navalny's supporters were set to run a live broadcast of the protest, activists said.

At the previous two anti-governmental demonstrations, which were unauthorised, riot police and the national guard had detained over 2,000 people and a dozen protesters now face criminal charges and risk jail terms for "mass disorder".

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