Over a thousand people gathered in central Moscow today to protest against the Russian government's growing crackdown on political dissent and its increasing tendency to curb the country's newfound democracy.
The march -- banned by the Kremlin -- saw the presence of several prominent figures from the pro-democratic movement in Russia, including former world chess champion, Garry Kasparov and ex-Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov.
Kasparov was detained by police almost as soon as the demonstration began. According to an eyewitness account published on the Russian news Website, www.gazeta.ru, Kasparov was among 20 or so activists held by police as the march began to gather pace.
"This regime is criminal; it is a police state," Kasparov shouted as police hauled him away in a van.
He was released 10 hours later by a Moscow court, which levied a $38 fine on him for "public order offences."
In all, Moscow police admitted to having arrested 170 people, though activists claimed the actual figure was in the region of several hundred.
Eyewitnesses reported seeing multiple instances of unprovoked aggression towards demonstrators, with police using batons to push people back, and dragging them into police vans when met with resistance.
Local residents pointed to the presence of several "tough-looking, plainclothed men" and "vehicles without license plates" in the side streets surrounding Turgenev Square and Pushkin Square, where the protestors had gathered.
Hundreds of people marched down the streets, chanting "Shame, disgrace" and holding up human rights pamphlets from non-governmental organisations.
The demonstration broke up an hour and a half later, when the riot police began to disperse people and push them into the Moscow subway system.
In an interview with the only remaining truly independent Russian radio station, Echo Moskvy (Echo of Moscow), former Prime Minister Kasyanov said that he "witnessed riot police openly beating people up, with no attempt to hide it."
He added that the protest was organized under the aegis of the "Other Russia" coalition, in order to "demand free and honest elections and the right to free speech."
Saturday's march came after three other demonstrations met with similar police resistance in the cities of Moscow, St. Petersburg and Nizhny Novgorod. The "Other Russia" plan to hold another banned protest on Sunday in St Petersburg.
Although the official opposition party, the "Radical Nationalists" also led a 500-strong march today, their focus was largely nationalistic and pro-Kremlin. They were supported by the "Young Guard", a pro-government youth group: About 1,000 activists demonstrated in favor of Putin's regime near Moscow State University.
But the largest numbers belonged to the riot police, some 9,000 of whom were deployed across central Moscow in preparation for Saturday's marches.
Regulations passed recently by the Moscow city council require that all demonstrations must follow a strict rule limiting the density of protestors to one person per five square feet. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov denied any political reasoning behind the new ruling.
But the sheer number of police on the streets on Saturday underscored the high level of threat estimated by the Kremlin with regard to such "dissenters' marches."