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Thousands Protest Corruption in Russia in Challenge to President Vladimir Putin

26 Mar 2017 3:48 pm
By Nathan Hodge 

MOSCOW--Thousands of demonstrators took to the streets of cities across Russia on Sunday to protest official corruption in the most significant challenge to President Vladimir Putin in years.

Sunday's marches were called by leading opposition figure Alexei Navalny, who was detained during the protest in Moscow, according to supporters and local media.

"There are some things in life worth being detained for," Mr. Navalny said on Twitter.

Crowds chanting "Russia without Putin" and carrying placards decrying official corruption converged on Pushkin Square in the Russian capital, where they faced off with ranks of Interior Ministry police in riot gear.

Police officials told news agency Interfax that 7,000 to 8,000 people participated and dozens were arrested.

The demonstrations are a sign of public dissatisfaction in Russia despite the consistently high approval ratings Mr. Putin receives in opinion surveys.

Russia's economy has struggled and the country has been hit with international sanctions since it annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014. Transparency International rates the country is rated as one of the most corrupt in Europe.

"I don't the kind of Russia we have today, or the people who are in power," said Anna Tursina, who attended the Moscow march. "There's no money for education, or science, for children, mothers and the elderly."

Ms. Tursina carried a sign emblazoned with the slogan, "A thief should sit in jail."

Images on Russian social media showed crowds of hundreds or thousands in cities across the country. Supporters of Mr. Navalny posted photos of demonstrations in Siberian cities of Irkutsk, Tomsk and Krasnoyarsk.

Interfax, citing local authorities, reported that 1,500 demonstrators turned out for a protest in Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific Coast.

In Moscow, police warned demonstrators to disperse.

"You are violating public order," a police officer said over a loudspeaker. "Consider the consequences."

In response, members of the crowd answered by shouting: "We're out for a walk!" As detained protesters were led away, members the crowd shouted, "Shame!"

Protesters said they were mobilized in part by a film produced by Mr. Navalny and his Anti-Corruption Foundation. The group accuses Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of amassing a vast collection of properties and using charities, offshore companies and networks of friends to disguise his wealth.

A spokeswoman for Mr. Medvedev did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Kremlin officials have dismissed Mr. Navalny's allegations as baseless.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Mr. Navalny's calls for a march were "illegal appeals" and "nothing more than a provocation," the news agency RIA-Novosti said.

Mr. Navalny has emerged as Mr. Putin's most prominent opponent after the 2015 assassination of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov. Earlier this year, Mr. Navalny was found guilty of embezzlement by a court in Kirov, 500 miles east of Moscow, a decision he said was politically motivated and designed to keep him from running in next year's presidential election.

Write to Nathan Hodge at nathan.hodge@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 26, 2017 11:48 ET (15:48 GMT)

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