Opposition-led protests erupted in Moscow this summer after election officials barred more than a dozen opposition and independent candidates from running in the Sept. 8 election for the Moscow city legislature.
Some marchers on Saturday held placards demanding freedom for political prisoners: 14 people arrested in earlier protests face charges that could send them to prison for up to eight years. The only police seen along the route to Pushkin Square were traffic officers, a contrast to the previous unsanctioned demonstrations where phalanxes of helmeted, truncheon-wielding riot police confronted demonstrators.
At earlier protests, authorities did not allow key opposition figures to get anywhere near the places they were held. Individuals were detained outside their homes and sent them to jail for calling for an unpermitted protest.
This time, the protest leaders attended the gathering unhindered. Lyubov Sobol, one of the rejected city council candidates, marched along the boulevards with her supporters. The crowd chanted "Thank you" to Sobol, who spearheaded the protests after going on hunger strike. Several people gave her flowers.
"Our demands are right and reasonable. We have significant support. We have the right to be on the ballot," Sobol said at the event. The protests that started in mid-July, including a permitted one this month that attracted about 60,000 people, represent the largest show of public dissent in Russia in eight years.
Although the Moscow city council has relatively little power, the candidates' disqualification tapped into frustration with Russia's tightly restricted politics. The police violence at the previous rallies scared off some opposition supporters. Several people told The Associated Press on Saturday they were certain that coming out on the street would mean an evening at a police station.
"I'm scared, but we all have to overcome this. We need to come out and stand up for our right," said Alexei Burtsev, 20, a film student who said he was a first-time protester. Several thousand demonstrators reached a central square in the afternoon, and most of them left soon after. A few hundred, however, stayed on and later went to walk around central Moscow.
Jim Heintz and Dmitry Kozlov in Moscow contributed to this story.