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United Russia made a miracle, prompting all of us to unite against it,” nationalist leader Konstantin Krylov told the rally.

Thousands of protesters also were allowed to march from a gathering place near the Kremlin across downtown to a square where the main rally was held. Police were out in force, blocking all side lanes to prevent the demonstrators from approaching government buildings.

Russia will be free!” ”Russia without Putin!” ”United Russia is a Party of Crooks and Thieves!” protesters chanted.

“We will fight to the end, to the cancellation of this shameful, false election,” said Grigory Yavlinsky, leader of the liberal Yabloko party that failed to make it to parliament in last Sunday’s vote. “We are launching a campaign to drive Putin from power.”

The organizers sought to send a message of unity, urging the crowd to respect the diversity of speakers’ views. At one point, the audience booed a military veteran when he called for the restoration of the Soviet Union, but chanted slogans of support when he denounced the vote-rigging and said the army was with people.

“The army is with us, 80 percent of officers hate the defense minister,” retired Maj.-Gen. Yevgeny Kopyshev shouted.

The organizers also praised police for helping maintain order, as demonstrators chanted “Police with people!”

The rally demanded the cancellation of the election results, the punishment for officials responsible for vote-rigging, registration of the opposition parties that were denied it, liberalization of the electoral law and holding new elections. The organizers urged protesters to brace for another rally in two weeks.

“We’ll come again!” the crowd chanted.

The Moscow organizers appeared to realize they are facing a tough challenge of keeping protest momentum.

“Nothing will change it if it remains a single rally,” said Sergei Parkhomenko, the editor of Vokrug Sveta monthly magazine who was one of the demonstration’s organizers. “It must be the first in a long series of protests.”

Vladimir Milov, a former energy minister who is now an opposition activist, also acknowledged that the organizers need to plan their strategy to preserve the protests’ energy. “Otherwise people will just grow tired and stop attending the rallies,” he said, adding that the opposition must focus on next year’s presidential election.

Yevgeniya Albats, editor of the liberal New Times weekly, said the opposition must gather signatures for the cancellation of the vote results and for Putin to step down. “This is only the beginning of a long and difficult struggle,” she said. “This is our land, and we must get it back.”

Oleg Orlov, the head of Memorial rights group, said the rally turned a new page in history.

“We are now changing the nation’s history to the better,” Orlov said. “We will force the government to realize that they will have to pay a price for rigging the vote, and the price is their legitimacy.”

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