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People take part in a rally in support of independent candidates for elections to Moscow City Duma, the capital’s regional parliament.—Reuters
People take part in a rally in support of independent candidates for elections to Moscow City Duma, the capital’s regional parliament.—Reuters

MOSCOW: More than 20,000 people packed a Moscow square on Saturday to protest the authorities’ refusal to allow opposition candidates to register for local polls.

Joined by opposition leaders such as Alexei Navalny, protesters gathered in the capital after authorities refused to register independent politicians seeking to contest the September vote for the capital’s parliament.

The crowd chanted: “This is my city!” White Counter, an NGO that tracks participation in protest rallies, said about 21,500 people took part in Saturday’s rally.

“We will show them this is a dangerous game,” Navalny bellowed from a stage set up on the protest square.

“We should fight for our candidates,” he said as the huge crowed cheered and waved Russian flags.

The 43-year-old threatened an even bigger rally next week, near the mayor’s office, unless Moscow’s electoral authorities register a new crop of popular politicians including Ilya Yashin, Lyubov Sobol and Dmitry Gudkov for the vote within seven days.

“We will not give up!” added Navalny ally Sobol, who has been on a hunger strike for a week to protest the authorities’ refusal to allow her to run.

“I am sure that we will win,” said the 31-year-old lawyer, propped up by an ally on stage.

Fellow opposition contender Gudkov accused the authorities of stealing not only people’s money and votes but their very future.

“We’ve been living in an occupied country for the past 20 years,” the former lawmaker said.

Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2019