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Anti-Putin protests waning? Tens of thousands of Russians say no.

On Saturday, an energized Moscow crowd as large as many of those from last winter and spring protested against Russian President Putin. But this time, the tone was far more politicized.

By Correspondent / September 15, 2012

Protesters gather in Moscow on Saturday for an anti-Putin rally that defied government statements that the opposition movement was dying down.

Mikhail Metzel/AP

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Moscow

Tens of thousands of Russians defied predictions of the anti-Putin protest movement's demise Saturday, and filled Moscow's cavernous Sakharov Avenue with a diverse and sometimes fractious crowd that was as large as many previous demonstrations last winter and spring.

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As usual, estimates of the rally's size swung wildly between a police tally of 14,000 to organizers' claims of 100,000 or more. Neither source has any track record of accuracy. Journalists on the scene said at least 25,000 people were present in the gigantic space at the meeting's peak.

The mood was upbeat, and as before, protesters said they were fed up with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the highly orchestrated top-down nature of Russia's political system, corruption, and the lack of rule of law. 

Some said that recent tough signals from the Kremlin that penalties for protest will be much harsher, such as the two-year prison sentence handed down to three Pussy Riot women last month, or last week's expulsion from the Duma of opposition-sympathizing parliamentary deputy Gennady Gudkov, have only strengthened their resolve to continue protesting.

"I want honest and fair elections," said Yelena Morozova, an engineer. "The authorities are becoming more cruel and things are changing for the worse. Pussy Riot [members] were imprisoned for nothing. Gudkov was elected by the people and thrown out of Duma by deputies; there is no fairness in the system.... We need to protest harder, bring more people out, then maybe the authorities will listen."

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One visible shift was greater politicization, with more people marching in organized contingents, bearing the slogans and banners of parties, trade unions, and political organizations from the extreme left to the hard nationalist right. Also present were students' groups, gay rights advocates, and even a colorfully dressed group with a huge banner that read "Existentialists of Russia."

Another change is that the white ribbons that were the chief symbol of the protest movement when it began last December are now matched by the red ribbons introduced by the Communist Party, which officially took part in Saturday's rally for the first time.

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