Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov led a coalition of left and right-wing Russian politicians Saturday in an anti-government rally in Moscow.
Hundreds of police turned out to surround about 2,000 demonstrators calling for free elections next year in what the protesters say is an increasingly authoritarian regime.
Ahead of the rare rally, authorities pulled hundreds of opposition activists off buses and trains and detained them along with scores of others, in many caseswithout explanation, organizers claimed.
Since Kasparov retired from the professional chess circuit last year he's used his formidable intellect to challenge his mostformidable opponent yet — Vladimir Putin.
"When you are so corrupt and used to living beyond the law, you are used to getting what you want," Kasparov said at the rally. "Let's not forget Putin was not elected; he was appointed by Yeltsin."
Electoral law bans extremists
Calling themselves "the other Russia," the politicians said the Kremlin won't give them a fair chance of participating in the race and cited the imposing police presence at the rally as an attempt to intimidate those who might call for dissent.
At issue is a new electoral law that Putin's opponents say will allow the government to label anyone as an extremist in order to ban them from running in the elections.
They say they're also worried that law sets thresholds that will make it nearly impossible for small parties to be represented in parliament.
But many at the protest had a bigger message directed at the Russian leader himself.
"Just to tell Putin and his junta to go away," Valery Gourevitch, a professor, told CBC News.
"They are ruining our democracy, everything that we had won before. Even under [Mikhail] Gorbachev, we had won a lot."
Critics at home and abroad have accused Putin of leading Russia away fromdemocratic reforms achieved after the collapse of the Soviet Union and all but silencing media dissent, especiallyfrom thetelevision networks.
They citethe recentmurder of senior Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya—a vocal critic of the Kremlin's policies in Chetchnya— and the mysterious poisoning of former KGB spyandPutin critic Alexander Litvinenko in London.