Several thousand people rallied outside the Kremlin walls in Moscow and in central Saint Petersburg on Thursday to protest the sentencing of top opposition leader Alexei Navalny to five years in prison on embezzlement charges.
Police swiftly cordoned off the squares near the Russian parliament and the Kremlin, including Red Square, as Navalny supporters arrived in the centre of Moscow, some crying out "Freedom!", an AFP correspondent said.
The Moscow authorities said the opposition did not have permission to hold a rally and vowed to break it up. Several people have reportedly been arrested.
Around 3,000 people were present at the Moscow rally, according to AFP estimates.
"I do not have a good feeling about this," musician Vladimir Ivanov told AFP of the verdict. "It brings tears to my eyes and my legs are going numb. Here was a person who people followed."
Around 2,000 people gathered at the central Nevsky Prospekt street in Russia's second city Saint Petersburg, many holding portraits of Navalny and others chanting "Putin is a thief," an AFP correspondent reported.
Some sported pins saying "The case against Navalny is the case against me."
"I came here because lawlessness reigns supreme in the country," said Anton Krylov, 25. "I want to at least in some way show that I do not agree with this."
Several people were detained, the correspondent said.