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Thousands march near Kremlin to mourn slain opposition leader Boris Nemtsov

By Andrew V. Pestano

MOSCOW, March 1 (UPI) -- Thousands of people marched the streets of Moscow in support of slain Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, killed Friday near the Kremlin.

Nemtsov was scheduled to lead an opposition rally in Moscow on Sunday, but his death initiated a march of grief instead. City authorities initially approved a march for up 50,000, but some estimates said attendance could have been as high as 70,000.

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Former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov attended the march.

"The fact that all this could happen in Russia in the 21st century near the Kremlin walls, is shocking a lot of people, even those who maybe didn't like or respect Boris," Kasyanov told Bloomberg News. "Today's demonstrators aren't only our activists, but first of all, of course, people who care what is happening in the country."

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Thousands of people are also participating in demonstrations in St. Petersburg.

"Russia without Putin" was shouted among the crowd in Moscow, along with other anti-Putin slogans. "I am not afraid" and "I am Boris" labeled banners, signs and portraits of the slain leader.

"They were afraid of you, Boris" and "Heroes don't die" read other signs. Supporters eventually reached the Great Moskvoretsky Bridge, where Nemtsov was gunned down.

Nemtsov was shot in the back with a pistol. He was a former deputy prime minister under former Russian President Boris Yeltsin and was a sharp critic of President Vladimir Putin. The shooting came hours after a radio interview in which he denounced Putin's "mad, aggressive" policies.

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In a telegram to Nemtsov's mother, Putin denounced the shooting as "vile and cynical" and praised Nemtsov's work.

"Please accept my deepest condolences for the irreparable loss," Putin said. "Boris Nemtsov left his mark in the history of Russia, in politics and public life."

Amy R. Connolly and Danielle Haynes contributed to this report.

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