Russian opposition activists march during a protest in downtown Moscow Saturday. Photo by Yuri Kochetkov/EPA-EFE
July 27 (UPI) -- Moscow police detained nearly 700 protesters Saturday as thousands gathered downtown in continuing protests that had been building for weeks after election officials prevented opposition candidates from running in September local elections.
Authorities estimated that 3,500 participated in the demonstrations, but the Moscow Times reported it was difficult to get a crowd estimate as police regularly broke up crowds that grew to a certain size.
An estimated 22,500 took part in a central Moscow protests last weekend, the highest number in recent year in Russia's capital.
"I see this as the achievement of all those people who came out [to protest] today," said Lyubov Sobol, one of the candidates who were denied a place on the ballot, on social media. Sobol was arrested at the rally but later released Saturday evening only to return protesting.
Sobol is an ally of government opposition leader Alexei Navalny, who called for the demonstrations to take place at City Hall, near the Kremlin. He continued to demand that Sobol and other opposition leaders to be placed on the local ballots.
Government officials claimed that the roughly 30 opposition candidates did not collect enough valid signatures to qualify for the Sept. 8 elections.
Candidates had to collect 5,000 signatures, but the signees also had to volunteer other personal information that the government would have access to as an opposition supporter.
Russia's Investigative Committee opened a criminal investigation into the protests earlier this week, arresting Navalny. Police then raided the residences of four leading opposition candidates, taking their computers and bringing them in for questioning.