Russia frees protesters after anti-Putin rally

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Russian police on Sunday said they had released some 40 people detained during a banned protest against Vladimir Putin, including opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Braving freezing cold and the threat of heavy fines, hundreds of people defied the authorities Saturday to gather at Moscow’s Lubyanka Square, the seat of the FSB security services, to mark one year since the start of unprecedented anti-Putin protests triggered by fraud-tainted parliamentary polls last December. Police said around 40 people had been detained at the rally, including star anti-corruption blogger Navalny, Sergei Udaltsov, the leader of leftist group the Left Front, Ksenia Sobchak, the daughter of Putin’s late mentor Anatoly Sobchak, and well-known activist Ilya Yashin.
“All those detained have been released,” a Moscow police spokesman said on Sunday, declining to provide any other details.
The opposition had originally planned a march through the city centre, but for the first time since the start of the anti-Putin protests, organisers were unable to get permission from city authorities.
On the eve of the planned event, they urged their supporters to simply show up at Lubyanka Square. Authorities said that because the rally was unauthorised its participants would face the threat of jail or fines of up to 300,000 rubles ($9,700, 7,400 euros), nearly equal to the annual average salary in Russia.
According to police, 700 people showed up, over 300 of them journalists and bloggers. Participants say a few thousand poured into the square, many of them with flowers they laid at a monument to victims of Stalin-era purges.