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Protesters march ahead of Putin inauguration

The opposition march is the first attempt to organise a big rally since Putin's election victory two months agoAt least 20,000 opposition demonstrators have marched through Moscow, protesting against the upcoming inauguration of Vladimir Putin as president.

The protesters marched on Sunday in the streets shouting "enough lies" as Putin, who served as president and prime minister before he was re-elected in March, is due to be sworn in on Monday.

Police clashed with protesters and arrested the protest leader on stage at an anti-Putin rally.

Using batons, helmeted police also beat back dozens of mostly young protesters and detained about 10 people at the event across the river from the Kremlin.

The turnout appeared smaller than most of the winter's unprecedented wave of protests, some of which attracted crowds estimated at 100,000 or more.

National parliamentary elections were marred by fraud, but Putin won the election easily and another round in March, returning to the Kremlin seat he held in 2000-2008.

Some of the demonstrators acknowledged that Putin's election win and his inauguration have been a blow to morale.

"It's true that some have been disappointed," said Yuri Baranov, a 46-year-old information technology specialist. But "the most important thing is that people have awakened".

Others admitted some doubts about whether the protests would spur any long-term change.

"I would like to think that our voice will be heard, but I am not totally sure of this," said Yelena Karpsova, 47, who came to the rally from Tula, about 200km south of Moscow.

Rival demonstrations

Supporters of the ex-KGB spy meanwhile planned to hold a gathering with some 50,000 people.

A senior city official said Putin's group did not need permission to bring out such large numbers onto a public square because "what they will be having is not a rally or a march or a protest".

"It will be a mass cultural event," Alexei Mayarov, a Moscow regional security department head, told Russian news agencies.

"What is important is there is still a constituency, and the most modernised constituency in Russia, that does not see Putin as a desired president"

- Maria Lipman, political analyst

Organisers said the demonstration along a main Moscow thoroughfare towards Bolotnaya Square opposite the river from the Kremlin was to conclude with a meeting that city authorities officially limited to 5,000 people.

Maria Lipman, a political analyst from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said from Moscow: "The rally that has been authorised implies that 5,000 will take part. Maybe more can be expected, however not the many tens of thousands that we saw in Moscow streets and squares in December, February and March."

Protests 'on decline'

"The mass protests are maybe losing momentum and may be on decline, however what is important is there is still a constituency, and the most modernised constituency in Russia, that does not see Putin as a desired president.

"I think that part of society will not reconcile to the fact that Putin holds power for the next six years, and we may see more eruptions of discontent in the following years over various kinds of developments," she said.

Putin's return to the presidency will technically give him greater powers than he previously wielded as prime minister.

He has dismissed the allegations that widespread fraud helped him win the presidential election and secured victory for his United Russia party in a parliamentary poll in December.

The inaugration ceremony will include a booming 30-gun salute and a special blessing from Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill.

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