MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's beleaguered opposition drew several thousand people on Sunday to a protest rally in an outlying Moscow neighborhood to decry the 15-year rule of President Vladimir Putin.
Protesters denounced the Kremlin-controlled political system that keeps Putin in power and prevents the opposition from running in elections. They complained of political repression and official corruption.
Opposition leader Alexei Navalny called on Russians not to give up hope that they can make a difference. He said the opposition's mission was "to work with those who don't believe" that anything can be changed.
The Kremlin intensified its crackdown on the opposition after anti-Putin protests drew as many as 100,000 people in the winter of 2011-2012. The protests were set off by parliamentary elections won by the Kremlin party through what independent observers said was widespread fraud and by Putin's decision to return to the presidency for a third term after four years as prime minister.
Irina Yegorova, 50, who held a sign saying "Putin is not a czar, he's a bureaucrat," said she came to the protest even though she no longer sees a way forward. She said the government will "put more people in jail" and Russia's economy will continue to suffer.
"There is no investment. They are stealing and stealing and stealing," Yegorova said. "We don't have hope anymore."
Protesters said it was wrong to have a system of government where the leader does not change. "It's not like your wife that you're married to your whole life," said 65-year-old Vladimir Semyonovich, who gave his patronymic but not his last name.
The protest was relegated to the southeastern Maryino neighborhood because the city government refused to allow the opposition to rally in central Moscow.