Russian opposition activists demanded the resignation of President Vladimir Putin in a massive rally which was staged in the memory of Boris Nemtsov, the liberal politician killed five years ago in front of the Kremlin.
"Putin, resign," urged the banner that led the march which kicked off on Saturday in Pushkin Square and ended in Sakharov Avenue, reports Efe news. More than 20,000 people attended to denounce the constitutional reforms Putin put forward in January to cement his power once his term ends.
Zhanna Nemtsova participated in the march
Nemtsov's daughter Zhanna Nemtsova, a journalist, also participated in the march. Her father, who was instrumental in the introduction of capitalism into the post-Soviet economy, was shot dead on February 27, 2015, by Chechen hitmen as he was crossing the Bolshoy Moskvoretsky Bridge, near the Kremlin and Red Square.
"Russia without Putin," the crowds chanted while activist and close ally to Nemtsov Ilya Yashin addressed the audience. The opposition and the Nemtsov family have said that Putin was "politically responsible" for the politician's murder and for creating an environment of hatred toward political activists, especially after the annexation of Crimea and the war in Donbas in 2014. Another slogan, "Kadyrov, the Shame of Russia", could be heard being chanted on Moscow's streets.
Ramzan Kadyrov, a Chechen leader, is widely accused by the Nemtsov family and their supporters for the politician's death, despite the fact there have never been any legal proceedings against him. The Head of the Chechen Republic said the opposition were "enemies of the people" in an article published in the Izvestia newspaper.
Alexei Navalny joined the march
In the piece, the publication described the Chechen strongman as an "authentic Russian patriot". Some of Russia's top opposition leaders flocked to the march including Alexei Navalny, the most popular politician among young Russians; Dmitry Gudkov, the last opposition leader to hold a parliamentary seat until 2016; former Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and liberal economist Grigory Yavlinsky.
The Moscow City Council authorized the march, unlike last year's anti-government protests which resulted in several thousand arrests. Similar protests in Nemtsov's memory and against the Kremlin were held in the country's second-largest city, St. Petersburg, where several were arrested.
There were also protests in Nizhny Novgorod
There were also protests in Nizhny Novgorod, where the politician was elected governor, and Yekaterinburg, capital of the Urals, the southern city of Krasnodar, and Novosibirsk and Irkutsk both in Siberia. Saturday's march has been the largest protest against the constitutional reforms Putin announced in his state of the nation address on January 15.
The opposition rejects both the content of the reforms, claiming it will allow Putin to remain in power indefinitely, as well as the rush to get them approved by the State Duma, Russia's lower house. Opposition members also denounced the lack of transparency of these reforms and the method chosen for their approval, a constitutional referendum which will not be held in accordance with the Federal Constitutional Law on the Referendum.
The issue activists say, is that voters will be asked whether to back the revised constitution as a whole rather than approving each amendment individually. This week Putin approved the vote for April 22 to coincide with the birthday of the founder of the Soviet Union Vladimir Lenin. The Duma, controlled by the Kremlin party United Russia, plans to approve the amendments on the second and third reading on March 10-11, after which they must be ratified by the Senate.