MOSCOW – Some 200 activists are camping out in central Moscow to protest the election of Vladimir Putin and the arrest of two opposition leaders.
Putin was Russia's president between 2000 and 2008, when he had to step down and assume a prime minister's post to avoid term limitations. On Monday, he was inaugurated as president for a six-year term.
Anti-Putin street protests in Moscow erupted on Sunday, and more than 400 people were arrested after the sanctioned rally turned into clashes between the demonstrators and riot police.
Since Monday, activists have been staging flashmobs across Moscow: suddenly assembling in public places, camping and staying there for the night. Two prominent opposition leaders, Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, were detained Wednesday for disobeying police orders. The protesters have pledged to stay on the streets at least until both men are released.
Thursday marked the first night when police did not move to disperse or detain the protesters.
Activists on Friday were camping out around the monument of Abai, a prominent 19th-century Kazakh poet and philosopher — a random choice. They put up a notice board, announcing upcoming meetings and lectures about peaceful resistance. Some climbed up to the monument to clean it.
These round-the-clock protests, dubbed "Occupy Abai," are small compared to street rallies that attracted 100,000 people last winter, but they demonstrate defiance rarely seen in Russia.
Opposition leader Boris Nemtsov said Friday that Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev, who is going to the United States for a Group of Eight summit next week, should come to Chistoprudny boulevard in Moscow and talk to the protesters. "You won't get hurt. People have questions for you," Nemtsov said.
Many liberals in Russia had pinned their hopes on Medvedev when he served as Russia's president and pledged to implement liberal reforms.
But they felt betrayed when Medvedev announced in September that he would step down and let Putin, his longtime mentor, seek a third term in office as president in election he was all but certain to win.