Russia protests: Putin opponents march in Moscow
Thousands of Russian anti-government protesters are taking part in a major rally in Moscow to demand fresh elections and a new president. The protest, on a national holiday, comes a day after police raided the homes of several prominent activists. One of them, Sergei Udaltsov, defied an order to report for questioning, and instead addressed the crowd.
Last week, President Vladimir Putin approved legislation increasing fines for those who violate protest laws. Mr Putin won a third presidential term in March amid protests over alleged fraud in December’s parliamentary vote.
This is the first big anti-government rally in Russia since Mr Putin returned to the Kremlin, says the BBC’s Steve Rosenberg in Moscow. There are tens of thousands of protesters, a sea of flags, banners and placards flowing through the centre of Moscow, he says. The demonstrators have been chanting “Putin is a thief” and “Russia without Putin”.
“It’s obvious they are as frightened of us as they are of fire,” opposition leader Boris Nemtsov told the rally. “They are scared of the people’s protest.”
The Russian president has vowed not to let Russia be weakened by “social shocks”.
“We cannot accept anything that weakens our country or divides society,” he said in televised remarks.
Addressing the crowd earlier, Sergei Udaltsov called for continuous street demonstrations, beyond Tuesday’s March of Millions. He dismissed the police order for him to report to them, saying: “The investigators will wait, I’ve made my choice”.
Mr Putin appears to be taking a harder line against the opposition, correspondents say.
Shortly before the rally, independent media websites went down.
The BBC could not access the Moscow Echo radio website, and other news agencies reported difficulty reaching that of the Novaya Gazeta newspaper.
Mikhail Zygar, editor-in-chief of the Dozhd (Rain) TV channel, said its website had come under attack by hackers.
“We’re trying to get back on track. The attack started at 11:00 [07:00 GMT],” he told the Interfax news agency.
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