Moscow: Thousands join pro- and anti-Putin protests

The BBC's Daniel Sandford says that the rallies show Russia is divided

Tens of thousands of people have marched in Russia's capital Moscow in protest at Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's grip on power.

It was the third rally since December's parliamentary election was marred by allegations of vote-rigging.

But supporters of Mr Putin, who will stand in next month's presidential election, held their own rally at a different location.

People at the rallies braved temperatures as low as -19C.

But the chilling temperatures did not appear to have dissuaded people from turning out, as feared by the 'For Honest Elections' rally organisers.

The BBC's Daniel Sandford in Moscow says it appeared as if the rally was of a similar size to last time, which organisers put at 120,000 people. Moscow police say only 23,000 people turned out on Saturday.

Police also put the number of people at the pro-Putin rally in the west of the capital at around 90,000 people, but other reports said the figure was much lower.

"Everyone here is here of their own free will," one protester in the 'For Honest Elections' march said. "Some of my friends were forced by their employers to go to the Pro-Putin rally, otherwise they would be fired."

The turnout was seen as a key indicator of whether the protest movement against Mr Putin still has momentum, observers say.

Pressure

Anti-Putin protesters carrying white balloons and wearing white ribbons - the colour adopted by the protest movement - marched from Kaluzhskaya Square to Bolotnaya Square.

They chanted "Putin, Go Away!" and "Russia without Putin!"; one banner read "Putin is a person without shame or conscience", a BBC reporter saw.

Mr Putin on Friday thanked those who would be attending the rival rally, which has been dubbed the "anti-Orange protest" in reference to Ukraine's 2004 Orange Revolution.

"I am grateful to them and share their views," he said, urging them to dress up warmly.

The organisers of Saturday's 'Honest Elections' protest are demanding a re-run of December's election, and calling on people to vote against Mr Putin in March's presidential election.

The BBC's Steve Rosenberg in Moscow says the organisers do not expect to be able to stop Mr Putin from winning March's election, but they hope they can pile the pressure on him to institute political reform.

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