MOSCOW–Tens of thousands of people marched in central Moscow on Sunday to honour the memory of opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was gunned down near the Kremlin in the highest-profile assassination of Vladimir Putin’s rule.
A sea of supporters, many waving Russian flags and banners, packed a Moscow square under gray skies before heading to the bridge where the 55-year-old opposition figure was shot in the back shortly before midnight Friday.
“He died for Russia’s future”, “He fought for a free Russia,” some of the banners said.
Organisers said 70,000 people had turned out while police estimated the crowd at more than 16,000.
Another 6,000 people, some wrapped in Ukrainian flags, turned out to protest in Russia’s second city, Saint Petersburg.
“I am carrying a Ukrainian flag because he fought for the end of the Ukraine war. And they killed him because of that,” said marcher Vsevolod Nelayev.
Hours before the drive-by killing, Nemtsov had broadcast a radio appeal to supporters to join him at a rally Sunday in Moscow to protest against the Kremlin’s Ukraine stance and demand an immediate end to the war there.
The protest instead was turned into a Nemtsov memorial march, with Moscow authorities approving a turnout of 50,000.
Putin on Saturday vowed to punish the killers as Russian oppposition figures denounced what they called a “political murder” and Western leaders called for a full probe.
Nemtsov, a vocal critic of the government and a former deputy premier in the 1990s under Boris Yeltsin, died after being hit with four bullets to the back while crossing a bridge a stone’s throw from the Kremlin, in sight of the golden domes of Saint Basil’s Cathedral.
A woman with him on the bridge was not hurt.
The spot where he fell was heaped with flowers, candles and notes. “These bullets are for each of us,” said organisers of the memorial event.
As small memorial rallies took place in cities such as Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Tomsk in Siberia, in Voronezh, south of the capital, supporters holding signs saying “I am Boris” were attacked by pro-Kremlin activists hurling disinfectant at them.
Putin on Saturday denounced the brazen shooting as “a provocation” by political foes, while investigators said the assassination appeared to have been meticulously planned.
The Investigative Committee, which reports directly to Putin, said Nemtsov “might have been sacrificed” to sow instability, and that they were also checking any links to the Ukraine conflict.
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