Russian authorities arrested prominent opposition activists and dozens of protesters in the latest rally in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin.
The protests took part in an unauthorized rally in front of the Federal Security Service building, the former headquarters of the KGB, reported Radio Free Europe. Some 40 people were arrested in Moscow and 26 others were detained in St. Petersburg on Saturday.
The demonstration in Moscow marked the anniversary of large scale rallies that were held following the elections in December 2011.
“This was an unsanctioned event but people showed up anyway even though few people were expected to show up,” said Filip Talanov, 42, who has been protesting since December of last year, according to the broadcaster. “We are now seeing a process toward a change of power, which will be gradual, but which is now irreversible,” he said.
“Freedom is the absence of fear,” protester Grigory Komotsky, who said he was initially fearful of coming out, told RIA Novosti. “It’s our victory. We wanted to come here today and we came.”
Opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov, Aleksei Navalny, Ilya Yashin, and Ksenia Sobchak were arrested and then later released without charge. According to Radio Free Europe, the protesters stood in freezing temperatures before they were dragged off by Russian police for having political slogans or signs, or chanting slogans against Putin.
Udaltsov said, “We need to convince people to switch from a sprint to a marathon because this fight is going to be long and hard,” reported the The Moscow Times, citing local media.
Opposition leader Navalny told the BBC that police “snatched me out of the crowd” when he was arrested.
Russian authorities and opposition leader Udaltsov gave both dramatically different estimates as to how many people came out. Police said only 400 protesters took part, while Udaltsov said 5,000 came out to the protest in Moscow, according to the paper.
Ilya Fainberg, a lawyer who attended the protest, told the publication that he just bought a copy of the Russian Constitution.
“I’m suffering from cognitive dissonance. In the Constitution, it says that people have the right to gather freely. But here, police are detaining people for doing just that,” he said.
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