MOSCOW — Moscow authorities Thursday allowed a mass opposition protest on February 4 where tens of thousands are set to challenge Vladimir Putin's domination of Russia a month ahead of presidential polls.
The official permission for the rally -- which will be the third such event in the Russian capital in less than two months -- means people can take to the streets without fear of being instantly arrested.
The city hall has sanctioned a protest march south of the Moscow river mustering up to 50,000 people from noon to 3:00 pm local time (0800 to 1100 GMT), deputy Moscow mayor Alexander Gorbenko told the Interfax news agency.
"The city hall has agreed to one of the variants put forward (by the opposition) that is acceptable to both sides," he said.
The demonstration will follow mass protests on December 10 and December 24 against the conduct of parliamentary elections that mustered tens of thousands of people and showed growing discontent with the rule of Putin.
The protest will see demonstrators march from Bolshaya Yakimanka street in the south of the centre of the Russian capital to Bolotnaya Square just opposite the Kremlin walls on the other side of the Moscow river.
It will come ahead of presidential elections on March 4 where Putin is standing for a third Kremlin term after his four-year stint as prime minister, in defiance of opposition warnings he has been in power too long.
"Friends! The march has finally been sanctioned and that is wonderful," the activists behind the protest movement wrote on their Facebook page, posting a copy of the official document from the city hall.
One of the organisers of the opposition protest meeting on February 4, journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, told Interfax the arrangements were a "compromise" that would be acceptable to the opposition and the authorities.
The protest will differ from the previous mass rallies in that it will include a march, helping protestors stay moving in the coldest time of the year and also creating a vivid spectacle.
The opposition protest is set to be mirrored by mass rallies in support of Putin that are also likely to gather tens of thousands.
The Russian Trade Union Federation -- a body that groups together around 25 million workers -- is planning pro-Putin meetings "in all regional and city centres", its chief Mikhail Shmakov was quoted as saying by the website of Putin's All Russian Popular Front (ONF) rallying group.
The Vedomosti daily quoted sources in the Moscow city hall as saying the ONF -- a body set up to rally support for Putin -- was interested in holding a mass protest also on February 4 and possibly on Red Square itself.
The ONF plans to hold successive waves of pro-Putin rallies across Russia starting on February 4 and then on February 11 and 18, Vedomosti quoted a source in the group as saying.
The Russian protest movement has for the first time shown up chinks in Putin's once all-conquering popularity but the Russian strongman is still expected to win the presidential polls in the absence of strong challengers.
In the latest opinion poll to show a recovery in Putin's popularity over the New Year, the independent Levada Centre said that Putin was on course to garner 62 percent in the presidential elections.
Such a result would mean he would avoid a second round run-off against his nearest challenger, most likely the dour Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov who would poll 15 percent, according to Levada.
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