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Putin urged to free jailed protesters

Anti-Putin protesters vented their anger at a rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on Monday.

A. Smirnov/AFP/Getty Images

Anti-Putin protesters vented their anger at a rally in Bolotnaya Square in Moscow on Monday.

MOSCOW — Around 20,000 Russian opposition supporters held an anti-Kremlin rally Monday and demanded the release of political prisoners.

Exactly a year ago, a protest on the same square the day before President Vladimir Putin’s third presidential inauguration ended in violent clashes between demonstrators and police.

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Participants in Monday’s rally, which went peacefully amid heavy police cordons, urged the authorities to free more than two dozen people facing criminal charges over their involvement in last year’s protest.

Since Putin returned to the presidency, authorities have initiated criminal proceedings against opposition activists and the Kremlin-controlled Parliament has quickly approved a series of repressive bills that sharply increase fines for participation in unauthorized rallies and imposed new tough restrictions on civil society activists.

Alexei Navalny, an opposition leader who is facing a trial on embezzlement charges he said were fabricated on Putin’s orders, urged the demonstrators Monday to ‘‘throw [Putin] out of the Kremlin.’’

He ended his speech with a chant ‘‘Russia will be free!’’ that was repeated by the crowd.

Putin was in the Kremlin during the protest and aware of it, his spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on the independent Dozhd TV.

As a result of last year’s protest, 27 people face charges that could send them to prison for up to 10 years.

Some are battle-hardened opposition activists, but just as many are ordinary Russians who had joined the anti-Putin protests for the first time.

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