Thousands of supporters of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny held rallies across Russia. Over 200 of them were detained by police.

Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attend a rally in Moscow, Russia on October 7, 2017. Sign on a poster reads
Supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attend a rally in Moscow, Russia on October 7, 2017. Sign on a poster reads "Freedom of elections, freedom to Navalny". (Reuters) (Reuters)

Police detained over 200 opposition activists on Saturday for taking part in a wave of anti-Kremlin protests across Russia in support of jailed opposition leader Alexei Navalny, ahead of a presidential election in March.

Under grey skies and intermittent rain, over two thousand people gathered in central Moscow's Pushkin Square and chanted "Russia will be free" and "Russia without Putin" before walking towards the Kremlin and parliament.

Police briefly detained a few people, but did not charge anyone. It was a different story at rallies in other cities however, and the OVD-Info monitoring group, a non-profit organisation, said 139 people had been detained in 25 towns.

In St Petersburg, Putin's hometown, a witness saw riot police roughly detain at least 10 people.

Navalny, who is serving a 20-day jail term for violating rules on public meetings, called the rally in Moscow and other cities to coincide with Putin's 65th birthday.

Putin, who has dominated Russia's political landscape for almost 18 years, is widely expected to run for what would be his fourth term.

Navalny hopes to run too, despite the central election commission declaring him ineligible due to a suspended prison sentence he says was politically-motivated.

One of the Moscow protesters held a homemade poster of Putin sitting on a mountain of banknotes wearing a crown with the legend: "Happy Birthday you little thief!"

Others carried posters citing their right to protest, some waved Russian flags, and a few carried inflatable yellow ducks, a jokey reference to Navalny accusing Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev of owning a lavish estate with a duck house.

Medvedev called the claims politically-motivated nonsense.

In St Petersburg, some 1,500 activists waving red and white banners gathered in a square before heading for the city's main street shouting "Putin is a thief" and "Free Navalny".

Modest rally

The size of Saturday's Moscow rally and others across Russia looked more modest than Navalny-backed mass protests in March and June which were widely recognised to be some of the biggest since 2012.

Carrying a yellow duck, Ulugbek Apsapayev, 17, said he had turned up because he wanted a better future for Russia.

"The duck is a sign that we support Alexei Navalny who also wants only good things for the country. But unfortunately we only have Vladimir Putin and his gang in power."

Orest Cherchesov, a 43-year-old manager, said he was not a Navalny fan but wanted to see competitive elections.

"There are people who think differently in Russia, just like there were in Nazi Germany," he said. "I believe he has the right to run in the elections."

Putin remains popular across the country, especially outside major cities where his strong leadership style and tough foreign policy stance goes down well. 

He is expected to confirm in November or December that he will run again for another six-year term.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies