At least 10,000 people took to the streets of Moscow to protest against the exclusion of most opposition-minded candidates from an election for the Russian capital’s legislature.
Election officials barred around 30 candidates, mostly opposition-leaning, from running for the 45-seat legislature on the grounds they failed to garner enough genuine signatures from voters to qualify.
The barred candidates say they have secured the required number of signatures, but that they had been excluded because they were challenging the control over the legislature exercised by those loyal to President Vladimir Putin.
Police said around 12,000 people took part in the protest on Saturday, while opposition groups said the figure was much higher. White Counter, an NGO that tracks participation in protest rallies, said about 21,500 people took part.
Local authorities gave permission for the protest to go ahead, and there were no reports of any arrests.
The protesters, led by Alexei Navalny, the most prominent critic of the Kremlin, demanded the authorities allow the candidates to run in the September 8 vote.
“We will show them this is a dangerous game,” Navalny bellowed from a stage set up on the protest square. “We should fight for our candidates.”
Protesters held placards with the inscriptions “I have the right to choose” and “Putin lies”, while others chanted: “This is my city!”
The 43-year-old Navalny threatened a bigger rally next week, near the mayor’s office, unless Moscow’s electoral authorities register a new crop of popular politicians, including Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol and Dmitry Gudkov, for the vote within seven days.
Some 7.2 million Muscovites are eligible to elect 45 legislators to the local parliament, currently dominated by the United Russia ruling party.