More than 100,000 protesters on Tuesday joined a march against President Vladimir Putin in central Moscow, organizer and radical left-wing activist Sergei Udaltsov told AFP news agency.
“There are more than 100,000 people,” Udaltsov said at the rally, called the March of Millions, which police said had drawn 18,000 people.
City authorities allowed up to 50,000 to take part in Tuesday’s event, which coincides with the patriotic Russia Day holiday marking the country’s 1990 declaration of independence from Soviet rule.
Moscow police said they were sending 12,000 riot officers and interior ministry troops onto the streets of the capital to keep order.
The march will take protesters down Moscow’s Boulevard Ring toward Sakharov Avenue, scene of a dramatic demonstration last December against the outcome of disputed parliamentary elections that month.
Meanwhile, independent Russian news websites went offline on Tuesday in a suspected attack by pro-government groups, as protesters gathered in Moscow for a march against President Vladimir Putin’s third Kremlin term.
The site of the Moscow Echo radio station went down about a half hour before protesters started to gather on central Pushkin Square.
The Dozhd (Rain) TV website and that of the prominent opposition Novaya Gazeta twice-weekly newspaper also could not be accessed as the event officially got under way at 0800 GMT.
But the websites of Russia’s main media sources − including Kremlin-allied papers and state-controlled television stations − were all accessible and operating without delay.
A Dozhd newscaster said their station’s website was the victim of a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack of unknown origin.
Opposition leaders have been previously blamed attacks on Russian independent media sources on pro-Putin youth groups.
A similar attack, which included the inaccessibility of the same websites during the disputed December parliamentary election, was reported but no one claimed responsibility for that attack, AFP reported.
The United States on Monday voiced concern after Russian police raided the homes of top protest leaders ahead of the planned mass rally in Moscow.
“The United States is deeply concerned by the apparent harassment of Russian political opposition figures on the eve of the planned demonstrations on June 12,” State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters.
Police armed with assault rifles carried out a coordinated sweep of the homes of young Russian politicians, who analysts believe represent the biggest threat to ex-KGB spy Putin’s 12-year rule.
Nuland also criticized a new law in Russia that imposes “disproportionate penalties” for violating rules on public demonstrations.
Russian police were calling in opposition leaders for questioning one hour prior to the planned rally time on Tuesday in a move “clearly designed to take them off the streets during the demonstration,” she said.
“Taken together, these measures raise serious questions about the arbitrary use of law enforcement to stifle free speech and free assembly,” she said.