More than 2,500 are arrested at rallies across the country as cities see huge turnouts in support of opposition leader

As riot police surged to retake Moscow’s Pushkin square on Saturday, all you could see of them from the crowd were their truncheons raised high, ready to strike. Then their black helmets came into view, and finally they pushed forward, driving waves of panicked Russians out on to the boulevards and side streets of the capital. “Respected citizens, the current event is illegal. We are doing everything to ensure your safety,” an officer repeated over a loudspeaker, despite all the evidence to the contrary.

For more than a decade, the Kremlin has used every tool at its disposal to keep Russians off the streets, wielding fear and boredom to make protesting against Vladimir Putin seem pointless. And yet in defiant scenes on Saturday in cities across Russia, from St Petersburg to Vladivostok…

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