Huge Pro-Opposition Crowd Turns Out in Moscow March – The New York Times

Protesters say that President Vladimir V. Putin’s government was simply intent on nipping any opposition in the bud, even at a local level, and that the signatures were genuine.

During ensuing demonstrations, riot police officers with nightsticks beat hundreds of protesters and arrested more than 2,500 people, most of whom were quickly released. Some face lengthy prison sentences, and dozens of opposition leaders are now in jail.

A survey released last week by Levada Center, an independent polling group, showed that a third of Muscovites are opposed to the current mayor, Sergei S. Sobyanin, while another third support him and the rest have no opinion.

The Moscow city government has for years been pouring money into urban renewal projects such as sprucing up parks and resurfacing sidewalks. Some political analysts see the work as a Putin strategy to use oil revenues to appease the capital’s politically important middle class.

In addition to mass arrests, the authorities have turned to subtler tactics to curtail street protests.

The police have checked the draft status of young men attending protests, and reportedly detained more than a hundred for army service. Court bailiffs, who are responsible for collecting some debts in Russia, have checked detainees for overdue loans.

The city government has been sponsoring alternative street activities, including a barbecue festival on Saturday called Meat & Beat. Sakharov Avenue, the site of the protests, was packed, while the festival was deserted.

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