Thousands of Russian opposition activists marched through Moscow on Wednesday to denounce President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian rule and call for the release of jailed anti-Kremlin protesters.
Led by anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, the protesters chanted "Divorce for Russia" and "Lyudmila without Putin. We should also divorce Putin," in reference to Putin's announcement last week that he and his wife Lyudmila of 30 years were divorcing.
Others chimed in with slogans like "One, two, three, Putin leave!" and "Russia without Putin" as they marched through central Moscow carrying anti-Putin placards and flags of all hues.
The protest dubbed the "March Against Butchers" was aimed at supporting twelve activists currently on trial for crowd violence at an opposition rally last year as well as jailed activists.
Some 10,000 people participated in the march, according to AFP correspondents, while the organisers put the turnout at 30,000. Police said that some 6,000 people had turned up for the march, adding nine people had been detained.
At the height of protests a year ago, over 100,000 people took to the streets but the rallies have since died down.
Navalny joined other prominent activists including Mikhail Kasyanov, the former prime minister turned opposition leader, and poet Dmitry Bykov, at the march amid a heavy police presence.
Anastasia Yuriyeva, a 21-year-old student, said she joined the march to demand freedom for the twelve accused of violence at a rally on the eve of Putin's inauguration for a third term last May.
"They are behind bars without any reason," she said.
Yury Kosmynin, a manager, said he wanted Russia to be a democratic country. "Putin should have been fired a long time ago," he said. "His place is in prison."
Navalny did not address supporters and his spokeswoman said he needed to leave for the central city of Kirov where he is standing trial on charges of embezzling half a million dollars in a timber deal.
"Everything is okay with me!" Navalny, who faces 10 years in prison, told supporters.
Some protesters held pictures of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, a former oil tycoon who has been behind bars since 2003 after he fell foul of the Kremlin for his support of the opposition.
Others called on the authorities to free two members of the Pussy Riot punk rock band who are serving two-year sentences for an anti-Putin stunt in a church.
The opposition has been struggling to sustain the momentum of the protest movement in the face of a tough crackdown on dissenters unleashed after Putin returned for a third presidential term last May.
The march, timed to coincide with the Day of Russia, a national holiday, comes after Putin on Tuesday evening accused Washington of supporting the opposition against him.
"Our diplomatic services do not actively cooperate with Occupy Wall Street, but your diplomatic service actively cooperates and directly supports (Russian opposition)," Putin told Western and Russian staff of the English-language state-funded television channel RT.
"In my view, this is wrong because diplomatic services should be building relations between states and not get involved in domestic affairs."
On Wednesday, Putin reiterated that he would not tolerate interference from abroad.
"Only we will decide what we can do, what we are capable of and what we should do," he told thousands of supporters at the founding congress of a movement called the All-Russia Popular Front.
The coalition is being promoted as Putin's new power base as he seeks to distance himself from the scandal-tainted United Russia ruling party.
Critics say the trials of the opposition activists are part of an unprecedented clampdown which has also seen a string of tough laws fast-tracked through parliament over the past few months.