As many as 25,000 protesters rallied in central Moscow Saturday to protest the refusal by city election officials to allow several opposition figures to run for the Moscow city council.
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition figure, told a roaring crowd he will call for a protest next Saturday in front of Moscow city hall, near the Kremlin, if the barred candidates were still not allowed to register and “we won’t leave.”
While Saturday's protest at Trubanaya Square was officially sanctioned, a march outside the mayor's office likely would not be approved.
Moscow police put the size of Saturday's crowd at 12,500, but a non-governmental organization called White Counter that tallies participants estimated the size at 22,500, Moscow Times reported.
Navalny wrote on Twitter that the turnout was the biggest since 2012, when demonstrators turned out to protest Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency.
Demonstrator Maria Semyonova said at Saturday’s rally: “They are making North Korea of our country, depriving us of freedom and rights.”
One of the barred candidates, Dmitry Gudkov, told the crowd: “Your couch is your grave.”
“It’s really a protest against Putin,” Abbas Gallyamov, a former Kremlin speechwriter turned political analyst, told Moscow Times. “These elections have clearly become a way of expressing a much deeper frustration and demand for political representation.”
Vladimir Putin: Russia seeking friends, not enemies
The election commission last week rejected signatures backing several well-known candidates for the fall city council ballot.
Valentin Gorbunov, the head of the Moscow city election committee, said some signatures were disqualified because the names and other details matched those of deceased residents, Moscow Times reported. Supporters of the candidates whose signatures were excluded responded by posting on social media to prove that they are, in fact, alive.
Last month, police detained around 500 protesters at an unauthorized demonstration over the arrest of investigative journalist Ivan Golunov on apparently fabricated drug charges. Golunov was later freed and top police officials fired over the arrest.
At Saturday's demonstration, protesters carried signs proclaiming "Putin No!" and "I have the right to choose."
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Russians protest barring opposition figures from city council ballot