MOSCOW — Russian police detained around two dozen anti-government protesters Saturday as hundreds rallied in downtown Moscow to denounce Vladimir Putin's return to the presidency and a television show that accused opposition leaders of treason.
Moscow police said they had detained more than 20 people for trying to hold an unsanctioned protest at Revolution Square, along with two protesters at nearby Pushkin Square who unfurled anti-Kremlin banners. The protesters were released shortly afterward, police said.
Several hundred protesters at Pushkin Square chanted "Russia without Putin!" Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who was president in 2000-2008, was re-elected earlier this month for a third term despite rallies, Russia's largest since the Soviet collapse, that urged him to step down.
The protesters at Pushkin Square cheered opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, who was released from jail Friday night after his 10-day jail term for disobeying police orders was replaced with a fine.
Udaltsov, who leads the Left Front movement and spent several months in jail last year after a dozen arrests for organizing unsanctioned rallies and disobeying police, called on the protesters to participate in the March of A Million – an opposition rally planned for May 6, a day before Putin's presidential inauguration.
"This power is not legitimate," Udaltsov told the crowd. "Impostors, get out of the Kremlin!"
The protesters also chanted "Shame on NTV!" referring to a national television channel. An NTV report aired Thursday alleged that opposition leaders used U.S. grants to plan an anti-Kremlin coup, organize provocations against authorities and pay thousands of Russians for participating in huge rallies that followed December's fraud-tainted parliamentary election.
The report – whose authors were uncredited – triggered tens of thousands of angry tweets and comments on blogs and social networking websites, and NTV's website was briefly paralyzed Friday after what the broadcaster said was a hacker attack.
In recent months, several videos, tapped phone conversations of opposition leaders and their e-mails have been leaked online, prompting accusations of the Kremlin's involvement.
The protesters also demanded the release of Alexei Kozlov, the husband of protest leader Olga Romanova. Kozlov, a former investment banker, was sentenced Thursday to five years in jail for alleged money laundering and fraud in a trial widely seen as Kremlin retaliation for his wife's political activism.
Although Saturday's rally was not sanctioned by authorities, police made no attempt to disperse it and only used bullhorns urging the protesters to disperse.
Since December, authorities who once denied almost all permission requests for opposition rallies or tightly limited their size have shown an unusual willingness to sanction huge gatherings in prominent locations.