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About 20,000 rally in Moscow to demand protesters' release

A protester holds a banner reading 'Freedom to political prisoners!' during a rally to support political prisoners in Moscow, Russia, on Sept. 29, 2019. (AP Photo/Dmitri Lovetsky)

MOSCOW (AP) -- About 20,000 people rallied in Moscow on Sunday to demand the release of those who were arrested during a wave of opposition demonstrations this summer.

Those at the rally in downtown Moscow, which was sanctioned by Russian authorities, chanted "Free them all!"

Protests erupted in Moscow in July after officials refused to allow a dozen independent and opposition candidates to run for the Moscow city legislature in the Sept. 8 vote. Rallies drew crowds of up to 60,000 at a time, the largest show of discontent against President Vladimir Putin's rule in seven years.

Russian police violently dispersed some of the election protests that weren't sanctioned, detaining a total of more than 2,400 people. Most were quickly released, but more than a dozen were put into custody on charges of involvement in riots.

Amid the public outrage, the authorities dropped charges against some of the protesters, but several people have been sentenced to prison terms of up to four years and a few others are in still custody or under house arrest awaiting court verdicts.

"Let's be confident of our power. If we come out in force, we will win their release," Alexei Navalny, the Kremlin's most visible foe, said at the rally.

Lyubov Sobol, a Navalny associate and one of the opposition candidates denied registration who spearheaded the summer protests, vowed to maintain the pressure on the Kremlin.

"We have shown them that we are strong and will keep defending our rights," she said.

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