Russian opposition activists rally on Red Square

Published April 8, 2012 4:00PM (EDT)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russian authorities showed unusual leniency Sunday by allowing several hundred opposition supporters to gather freely on Red Square, but quickly detained a prominent opposition leader when she tried to erect a tent.

Opposition supporters wearing white ribbons, a symbol of peaceful protest against Vladimir Putin's rule, walked around the square under close watch by police.

Yevgeniya Chirikova, the leader of the Khimki Forest group, was detained along with two fellow activists immediately after she put up a small tent on the square.

"The tent is a symbol of our resistance to the illegitimate government," Chirikova tweeted later.

Several dozen demonstrators followed Chirikova to a police precinct where she was held, demanding her release.

Putin faced unprecedented protests by tens of thousands of people in the months before the presidential election in March, but the demonstrations have dwindled since his victory.

Police have routinely disbanded opposition rallies that haven't been sanctioned by authorities. But the organizers of Sunday's event argued they didn't need official permission because they weren't holding a formal demonstration.

"It's our city and we walk where we want," they said on Facebook.

Police showed up in force, but they let the protesters freely enter Red Square unlike in the past when police cordons closed off the area.

Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of the Left Front opposition movement who was among those who showed up on the square, called for a bigger rally May 6, a day before Putin's inauguration.

"We should speak out our demands loudly, openly and freely, and the more such initiatives there are that are coming from the people, the better it is," Udaltsov told reporters. "It means that our society is waking up and that people won't get scared and won't be shut up. I think that there will be more such initiatives and it can only be welcomed."

By Salon Staff

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