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Tens of thousands rally against Putin in Moscow

Leftist activists gather in Moscow even as police interrogate three of their leaders.

Tens of thousands of protesters chanting 'Russia will be free' rallied in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin's third term, despite a police crackdown on their leaders a day earlier.
Tens of thousands of protesters chanting 'Russia will be free' rallied in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin's third term, despite a police crackdown on their leaders a day earlier.

MOSCOW // Tens of thousands of Russians flooded Moscow's tree-lined boulevards yesterday in the first massive protest against Vladimir Putin's rule since his presidential inauguration in May - a rally that came even as police interrogated key opposition leaders.

Since embarking on his third term, Mr Putin has taken a stern stance towards the opposition, including signing a repressive bill last week that introduces heavy penalties for taking part in unauthorised rallies.

Police on Monday searched opposition leaders' apartments, carting away computers, cellphones and other personal items. They also demanded that opposition leaders come in for questioning yesterday an hour before the rally began - widely seen as a blunt attempt by the government to scare the protesters.

The march was being held on Russia Day, a national holiday that honours June 12, 1990, when Russian legislators decided that Russian laws should take priority over Soviet laws. The Soviet Union collapsed a year later.

The leftist politician Sergei Udaltsov snubbed the summons, saying he considered it his duty to lead the protest as one of its organisers. Russia's investigative committee said it would not immediately seek his arrest but would interrogate him later.

Mr Udaltsov said he and another opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, were handed summons by police right at the rally.

The anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, the liberal activist Ilya Yashin and the television host Ksenia Sobchak showed up for the interrogations that prevented them from attending the demonstration.

"It's horrible to sit here while you are having fun," Mr Navalny said on Twitter from the investigative committee headquarters.

"I can't predict whether I'll leave here freely or in handcuffs," Mr Yashin told reporters before entering the investigative committee headquarters for interrogation. "The government is doing everything possible so that I don't end up" at the protest.

The investigative committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said that authorities had found more than €1 million (Dh4.6m) and US$480,000 (Dh1.8m) in cash at Ms Sobchak's apartment and would investigate whether she had paid her taxes.

Ms Sobchak insisted that she had done nothing wrong and was keeping her savings at home because she doesn't trust banks.

The authorities are likely to use the piles of cash to paint the opposition as a bunch of spoilt rich kids at odds with the majority of Russia's population.

Ms Sobchak had been spared reprisals until Monday's raid. "I never thought that we would slide back to such repressions," she said on Twitter.

Despite a brief thunderstorm, protesters showed up on Pushkin Square ahead of the planned march and their numbers grew as they began marching down boulevards to a broad downtown avenue where a rally was being held. Despite fears following the use of violence by police on a previous protest last month, the demonstration went on peacefully.