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Russia Protests: Demonstrators Brave Cold

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Demonstrators march during a massive protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rule in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, with the Savior of Spilled Blood Cathedral on the background. (AP)
Demonstrators march during a massive protest against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rule in St. Petersburg, Russia, Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, with the Savior of Spilled Blood Cathedral on the background. (AP)

MOSCOW — The faces of the Russian protesters who braved brutal cold to express their discontent were as varied as the vast country itself: youthful and aged, unshaven and elegantly made up, self-confident and shy.

Wearing the white ribbons that have become a symbol of the peaceful pro-democracy protest movement, tens of thousands of people turned out in Moscow on Feb. 4 for the third big demonstration against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

As the protesters marched to Bolotnaya Square, just across a frozen river from the Kremlin, thousands of police kept order but did not intervene.

The Kremlin hoped that temperatures of minus 20 C (minus 4 F) would keep many people at home, but they came in furs and sheepskins, or ready for Alpine ski slopes. Their rosy faces were framed by bulky hoods, elegant fur hats or hats with goofy ear flaps.

For all their variety, the protesters had one thing in common: excitement over the new political energy that has taken Russia by surprise.

The protesters have few illusions that they can stop Putin from winning a March presidential election to remain in power, but for the first time in years Russians are challenging his control and demanding that their voices be heard.

One thing already has changed. While opposition protests in recent years have been routinely banned and quickly broken up by police, the government has authorized the big anti-Putin rallies that began in December following a fraud-tainted parliamentary election. The number of protesters is now too high to arrest them all.

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