MOSCOW (AP) — The Moscow city government on Thursday said it will not allow a rally marking the anti-Putin protest movement's first anniversary, but opposition leaders said they intend to defy the ban and take to the streets this weekend.
The decisions indicate a sharp change in tactics on both sides after a year of largely peaceful demonstrations that in some cases drew more than 100,000 people to protest Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency. Saturday's protest is likely to draw far fewer people and to be dispersed by riot police.
During negotiations over the planned protest march, the city offered opposition leaders routes similar or identical to those used in the past. The opposition turned them down, insisting on being allowed to march to a central square.
Enthusiasm for the protests has faded, in large part because of disillusionment with the opposition leaders, but polls show that discontent with Putin's government remains high.
Since Putin began a third presidential term in May, the Kremlin-dominated parliament has passed a series of laws cracking down on dissent. One law increases the fine for taking part in unsanctioned protests 150 fold to 300,000 rubles (nearly $9,000), close to the average annual salary.
In addition to the fine, the threat of being beaten and dragged away by police is expected to keep the numbers low on Saturday, discouraging participation by the students, office workers and young professionals who flocked to the past demonstrations, often with young children in tow.
Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, whose Left Front is among the most militant of the opposition groups, joked on Twitter that Saturday's event would resemble a small, long-running monthly unsanctioned protest where police habitually detain all participants.
He and other opposition leaders have called on their supporters to gather outside the headquarters of the FSB, the main successor to the Soviet KGB, in central Moscow.