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“We don’t trust him,” opposition leader Boris Nemtsov told the rally, urging protesters to gather again next month to make sure that the proposed changes are put into law. Along with liberals, the rally also drew Communists and nationalists.

Nemtsov called on the demonstrators to go to the polls in March to unseat Putin. “A thief must not sit in the Kremlin,” he said.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov was among an array of speakers who sought to give the protesters a sense of empowerment.

“There are so many of us here, and they (the government) are few,” Kasparov said from the stage. “They are huddled up in fear behind police cordons.”

Many in the crowd were young.

“We want to back those who are fighting for our rights,” said 16-year-old Darya Andryukhina, who said she had also attended the previous rally.

“People have come here because they want respect,” said Tamara Voronina, 54, who said she was proud that her three sons also had joined the protest.

The protests reflect a growing public frustration with Putin, who ruled Russia as president in 2000-2008 and has remained the No. 1 leader after moving into the prime minister’s seat due to a constitutional term limit. Brazen fraud in the parliamentary vote unexpectedly energized the middle class, which for years had been politically apathetic.

“No one has done more to bring so many people here than Putin who managed to insult the whole country,” said Viktor Shenderovich, a columnist and satirical writer.

Putin has accused the United States of fomenting the protests in order to weaken Russia and has said, sarcastically, that he thought the white ribbons many protesters wear as an emblem were condoms.

In response to Putin’s blustery rhetoric, one protester Saturday held a picture montage of Putin with his head wrapped in a condom like a grandmother’s headscarf.

“We can’t tolerate such a show of disrespect for the people, for the entire nation,” journalist and music critic Artyomy Troitsky said in a speech at the rally. He wore a white gown that resembled a condom, mocking Putin’s comment.

Although Putin has derided the demonstrators as Western stooges, he has also sought to soothe public anger by promising to relax his grip on the political scene.

He has promised to liberalize registration rules for opposition parties and restore the direct election of governors he abolished in 2004. Putin’s stand-in as president, Dmitry Medvedev, spelled out those and other proposed changes in Thursday’s state-of-the nation address, promising to restore direct elections to fill half of the seats in parliament and ease rules for the presidential election.

Some opposition leaders welcomed the proposals, but stressed the need for the protests to continue to force the Kremlin to quickly turn the promises into law.

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