Moscow: Moscow held rival rallies on Sunday by tens of thousands of Vladimir Putin supporters and members of Russia's nascent protest movement ahead of his inauguration to a third Kremlin term.
Russia's current premier will crown his thumping March presidential election win with a glitzy inauguration on Monday that includes a booming 30-gun salute and a special blessing from Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.
Leaders of protests that gripped Moscow following fraud-tainted legislative polls in December had set today as their target for showing the ex-KGB spy how far Russia has evolved since his domination of the country from 2000 to 2008.
They had earlier cancelled several post-Putin vote rallies after drawing a fraction of the 100,000-strong crowds that once joined them amid doubts about what new demonstrations could possibly call for or achieve.
Only 10,000 users had pledged their attendance for today on Russia's VK Internet forum, while police in Siberian city of Irkutsk reported just 70 people coming to an event organised for more than 1,000.
Similar small numbers were reported in central Russia as well.
A drizzle began to fall on the Moscow crowd as the first few thousand gathered for a march along a main thoroughfare toward a square opposite the river from the Kremlin for a rally officially limited to 5,000 people.
But those there -- many waving banners or beating drums while wearing the traditional white protest ribbons – said they feared for Russia's course in the first six of a possible
12 new years the 59-year-old can now stay in power.
"He is is approaching his 60s and is hardly likely to be any better than he was before," said human relations consultant Artyom Streltsov. "And I did not see any success in the past 12 years."
The flagging protest numbers underscore the trouble the fractured movement -- its ranks filled with everyone from veteran liberals to teenage Stalinists -- will have in finding direction during Putin's six-year term.
The media have been dominated by the state since the Russian strongman's first term, while his 46-point win over his nearest rival underscored how criticism of party politics does not necessarily translate to Putin himself.
And protesters who did try to reach Moscow from the regions complained of a concerted police campaign to prevent them from getting far.
Media in Putin's home town of Saint Petersburg said traffic police had stopped several buses and taken vehicle documents to prevent them from heading to Moscow.


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