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Silent 'free election' vigils held across Moscow amid protest ban

Silent ‘free election’ vigils held across Moscow amid protest ban

Russian opposition activists held a string of one-person protests across Moscow on Saturday after they were banned from holding a much larger rally.

The solo pickets took place outside several of the city’s monuments, where protesters once again called for free elections and the release of political prisoners.

Despite a heavy police presence, officers did not intervene. Activists took turns to hold protest signs, as solo protests don’t technically need approval.

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Most protesters stayed home

The silent vigils were in stark contrast to previous Saturdays which saw tens of thousands of people take to the streets, angry that opposition figures were banned from next month’s city council elections.

Authorities have taken a tough line against the protesters. Over the past month, more than 3,000 people have been detained for taking part, and prominent members of the opposition, including top Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, remain behind bars.

Human rights activists have accused police of using disproportionate violence against peaceful demonstrators.

Criminal cases have been opened against a dozen protesters, who face prison sentences of up to eight years for “mass unrest.”

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The Moscow city hall elections set for September 8 were, until last month, a relatively minor event on Russia’s political calendar.

Election ban sparked public anger

But the issue blew up after election authorities refused to register various opposition candidates over alleged violations including faking the signatures needed to qualify.

Earlier on Saturday, around 4,000 people took part in a separate Communist Party rally for free elections, which was approved by the police.

mm/jlw (AFP, dpa, Reuters)

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