MOSCOW (Reuters) - Hundreds of Russian opposition protesters marched in Moscow on Sunday, a day before a bigger rally planned to mark the anniversary of a demonstration that ended in clashes with police and several prosecutions.
The rally on May 6 last year, the eve of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration for a third presidential term, has became a touchstone for discontent over the detention of 17 protesters on public order offences.
Opposition leaders, including anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, stayed away from the low-key march on Orthodox Easter Sunday. They plan to take part in the rally on Monday to mark a year since the protest on Moscow’s Bolotnaya square.
Protesters marching on a rainy day in Moscow on Sunday demanded the release of the so-called Bolotnaya 17 detainees, chanting “Russia without Putin!” and “37 won’t work”, in a reference to the Stalinist purges of 1937.
One Bolotnaya detainee was jailed for 4-1/2 years last November after admitting public order offences. Several cases have not come to trial, while other suspects have retracted confessions they say they gave under duress.
Protests against alleged ballot fraud in the parliamentary election of December 2011 and the March 2012 presidential vote had attracted up to 100,000 people. Crowds have since dwindled.
Rather than engaging in a dialogue with activists, Putin responded to the protests by pushing through laws which the opposition says are meant to stifle dissent - including tightening legislation on defamation and increasing fines for protesters.
The president has denied political persecution but said Russia needed order and discipline.
Reporting by Maya Dyakina; Editing by Douglas Busvine and Pravin Char