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EghtesadOnline: Thousands of people gathered in Moscow and other major Russian cities on Sunday, heeding a call by opposition leader Alexei Navalny to protest against official corruption in what appeared to be some of the largest anti-government demonstrations in the last five years.

Police detained more than 700 protesters in Moscow, including Navalny, 40, who was stopped shortly after arriving on Tverskaya Street in the capital’s downtown, his spokeswoman said on Twitter. He was ordered held overnight pending arraignment, she said later.

While there were no independent estimates of overall turnout, Sunday’s rallies appeared to be the largest since 2012, when tens of thousands came out against the Kremlin over allegations of widespread vote fraud. Ekho Moskvy, an independent Moscow radio station, estimated a total of 60,000 people participated in 82 protests around the country. The number of detentions in Moscow -- and the heavy presence of riot police -- was the highest seen in years, Bloomberg reported.

Navalny, who is campaigning for the presidency in next year’s elections despite doubts about whether he will be permitted to run, called the protests after releasing a film showing lavish estates that allegedly belong to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. The government has denied those charges.

Police Crackdown

Protesters defied officials who refused to authorize the rallies. News agencies reported detentions of participants in Vladivostok, as well as in cities in Siberia and central Russia, where organizers reported turnout in the hundreds and low thousands. In St. Petersburg, organizers said more than 10,000 participated, while more than 100 were detained.

Web cameras in Moscow showed crowds with thousands of people gathering at several central squares along Tverskaya Street. Because authorities had refused a permit for the protest, organizers called on participants simply to turn out and walk. Scattered signs and anti-government chants were also heard.

Police, who opposition groups accuse of understating such counts, put the turnout in Moscow at about 8,000. Photos from the scene suggested actual numbers were much larger.

Navalny’s Anti-Corruption Fund, which carried live Internet broadcasts of the demonstrations, was raided by police while on the air, with staff detained on suspicion of extremism, according to a fund spokesperson.

U.S. Condemns

The U.S. State Department said it “strongly condemns” the detentions, and called on Russia to immediately release all peaceful protesters.

“We were troubled to hear of the arrest of opposition figure Alexei Navalny upon arrival at the demonstration, as well as the police raids on the anti-corruption organization he heads,” State Department acting spokesperson Mark Toner said in a statement. “Detaining peaceful protesters, human rights observers and journalists is an affront to core democratic values.”

Russian state media, which have typically ignored such events in recent years, provided sporadic coverage of some of Sunday’s demonstrations. A senior lawmaker from the ruling United Russia party seemed sympathetic to the participants’ concerns. Frants Klintsevich told Ekho Moskvy that “these demonstrations probably raise a lot of justified criticisms and concerns.”

Russia Protests Alexei Navalny