(MOSCOW) — Russian opposition leaders led a rally in Moscow of about 1,000 people Sunday to protest the city election commission’s decision that will keep several opposition candidates off the ballot in a local election.
The unsanctioned rally was billed as a meeting between opposition leaders and voters after the Moscow election commission rejected signatures needed to qualify the candidates for the September city parliament election.
Demonstrators chanted “We are the authority here!” and “Putin is a thief.”
Alexei Navalny, Russia’s most prominent opposition leader, was not seen at the protest. The demonstration was led, in various stages, by opposition figures Dmitry Gudkov, Ilya Yashin and Lyubov Sobol.
“We were collecting the signatures under rain and in the heat,” Gudkov said. “And you know what (the election commission) told us yesterday? They told us that our signatures are fake. Many of the people who gave me their signatures are here today. Friends, do you agree?”
The crowd responded: “No!”
Yashin, one of the disqualified candidates, called on the crowd to march with him to the mayor’s office to state their election demands. They knocked on the doors of city hall, but no one answered.
“I think this is outrageous,” Sergei Bukharov, a former Moscow parliament press officer told The Associated Press outside city hall. “And what they say at the election commission, how they explain why they don’t admit independent candidates, it’s all lies. Those signatures are real.”
Opposition activist Sobol, who also is fighting to be on the September ballot, urged protesters to continue on down the street to the election commission.
“They are stealing our elections. They are stealing our future,” Sobol alleged, going on to accuse Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin of ordering the rejection of the signatures.
Police made no attempt to stop the protesters. The march began fading out after three hours, though Sobol and others continued to appeal on social media for more supporters to make their way to the election commission.
An election commission spokesman told Yashing that chief Valentin Gorbunov would not meet with the demonstrators Sunday since he was spending the weekend at his cottage outside the city, the Ekho Moskvy radio station reported.
A few hundred protesters remained outside the election commission as of 7 p.m. Moscow time (GMT 16:00.) About 30 said they would stage a sit in in the courtyard until morning — when, presumably, Gorbunov returns to his office.