Huge turnout for rally in honour of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov who was gunned down on Friday.

Opposition supporters marched through Moscow in memory of Boris Nemtsov, the Kremlin critic whose murder has increased concern about Russia’s future among opponents of President Vladimir Putin.

At least 10,000 people turned out in central Moscow on Sunday, many carrying Russian flags and slowly marching through an avenue alongside River Moskva in the Russian capital.

Al Jazeera’s Rory Challands, who is reporting from Moscow, said security is very tight for the rally.

On Saturday, thousands of people laid flowers and lit candles on a bridge near the Kremlin where the opposition politician and former deputy prime minister was shot to death late on Friday.

The opposition said Moscow city authorities had approved Sunday’s march from 3pm local time (12:00 GMT), allowing for up to 50,000 people, though the organisers say more could show up.

National investigators who answer to Putin say they are pursuing several lines of inquiry, including the possibility that Nemtsov, who was 55, was killed by Muslim attackers or that the opposition killed him to blacken the president’s name.

Kremlin critics who were killed or died in suspicious circumstances

  • Boris Berezovsky, 67, a former oligarch and fierce foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Found hanged in a bathroom at his home in the UK on March 23, 2013.
  • Anna Politkovskaya, 48, a journalist, is shot to death at the entrance to her apartment block in central Moscow on October 7, 2006.
  • Alexander Litvinenko, 43, former intelligence officer turned Putin critic dies after allegedly drinking tea laced with radioactive on November 23, 2006.

Putin’s opponents say such suggestions show the cynicism of Russia’s leaders as they whip up nationalism, hatred and anti-Western hysteria to rally support for his policies on Ukraine and deflect blame for an economic crisis.

“It is a blow to Russia. If political views are punished this way, then this country simply has no future,” Sergei Mitrokhin, an opposition leader, said of Nemtsov’s murder.

Putin has described the killing as a “provocation”, and told Nemtsov’s 86-year-old mother, Dina Eidman, that the killers would be found and punished.

He also promised to do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for Nemtsov’s killing.

“Everything will be done so that the organisers and perpetrators of a vile and cynical murder get the punishment they deserve,” Putin said in a telegram to Nemtsov’s mother published on the Kremlin’s website.

He said Nemtsov’s death was an irreparable loss and that he had “left his trace in Russia’s history, in politics and public life”.

Nemtsov was one of the leading lights of an opposition struggling to revive its fortunes three years after mass rallies against Putin failed to prevent him from returning to the presidency after four years as prime minister.

Putin has now been Russia’s dominant leader since 2000, when ailing President Boris Yeltsin chose the former KGB spy as his successor, a role Nemtsov had once been destined to play.

Even many of Putin’s opponents have little doubt that he will win another six years in power at the next election, due in 2018, despite a financial crisis aggravated by Western economic sanctions over the Ukraine crisis and a fall in oil prices.

Many opposition leaders have been jailed on what they say are trumped-up charges, or have fled the country.

Nemtsov had hoped, however, to start the opposition’s revival with a march in Marino on the outskirts of Moscow on Sunday to protest against Putin’s economic policies and what they see as Russia’s involvement in the separatist war in east Ukraine.

Nemtsov was shot at around 23:40 local time on Friday while crossing the Bolshoy Kamenny Bridge accompanied by a Ukrainian woman [Reuters]

The Kremlin denies any role in the fighting.

Announcing a new plan after Nemtsov’s death, Leonid Volkov, one of the organisers, said: “The march in the Marino district which we had planned – a positive march with flags and balloons – does not fit this tragic moment and the magnitude of Nemtsov’s persona, as well as the magnitude of the red line we have now crossed and which we have not yet recognised.”

Nemtsov had said in an interview that he feared Putin may want him dead because of his outspoken criticism of Russia’s role in Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said Nemtsov had told him about two weeks ago that he planned to publish evidence of Russian involvement in Ukraine’s separatist conflict.

“Someone was very afraid of this… They killed him,” Poroshenko said in televised comments shown in Ukraine.

US President Barack Obama called on Russia’s government to perform a “prompt, impartial and transparent” investigation to bring the perpetrators to justice.

Obama called Nemtsov a “tireless advocate” for the rights of Russian citizens.

Ban Ki-moon, the UN chief, also condemned Nemtsov’s killing.

“The secretary-general was shocked by and condemns the brutal killing of Boris Nemtsov in Moscow on 27 February,” the UN press office said in a statement on Saturday.

Ban “notes that an investigation into this murder has been announced, and he expects the perpetrators to be brought to justice swiftly”, it said.

People visited the site where Nemtsov was shot to death near the Kremlin and Red Square in central Moscow [Reuters]
A photo and flowers were placed at the site where Nemtsov was killed near the Kremlin in central Moscow [Reuters]

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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