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(MSNBC)-ST. PETERSBURG, Russia - Police violently broke up an unauthorized opposition rally in Russia’s second-largest city Saturday, clubbing dozens of activists before dragging them into waiting buses.
Several thousand members of liberal and leftist groups chanted “Shame!” as they marched down St. Petersburg’s main avenue to protest what they said was Russia’s roll back from democracy. The demonstration, called the March of Those Who Disagree, was a rare gathering of the country’s beleaguered and often fractious opposition.
City authorities had banned the march, only granting permission for a rally far from the city center, but the activists defied the ban and marched down Nevsky Prospekt, the city’s main street, blocking traffic.
Riot police beat dozens of protesters with truncheons, but thousands broke through police cordons. They marched toward the city center and rallied for about 40 minutes until police moved in again, detaining people and dragging them into buses.
The activists accused President Vladimir Putin’s government of cracking down on the opposition, stifling freedom of speech and eating away at democratic institutions by abolishing direct elections of regional leaders and creating an obedient parliament.
Thousands demonstrate against Putin