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“If we remain indifferent to this crime we are accomplices. It’s as simple as that,” writer Viktor Shenderovich said.

The ban has sparked a fierce debate in Russia, and it even has been criticized by government figures such as Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Mr. Putin’s approval of the measure also widened the divide between the Kremlin and the urban, educated class that has been at the forefront of protests against his 13-year rule.

The opposition-minded Novaya Gazeta newspaper gathered about 135,000 signatures in just a few days after Mr. Putin signed the bill. About 100,000 people also have signed a petition calling for the dissolution of parliament. The vast majority of the key figures in the anti-Putin protest movement kept a low profile Sunday, leaving the organization to civil activists.

Majority supports ban

A poll published by the Moscow-based Public Opinion Fund in late December indicated that 56 percent of Russians supported the adoption ban. The powerful Russian Orthodox Church also has backed the law. Archpriest Vsevolod Chaplin, a church spokesman, said last month that Russian children adopted by foreigners “won’t get a truly Christian upbringing.”

In a bid to consolidate public support for the ban, state media have run regular reports in recent weeks on U.S. parents who have abused their Russian children. On the eve of Sunday’s march, a top official in the ruling United Russia party launched a furious attack on protesters, calling them “child sellers.”

“Let’s look attentively and remember the faces of the organizers and active participants of this march,” Andrei Isayev wrote in a post on the United Russia website. “Our mission in the years ahead is to drive them to the farthest corners of political and public life.”

Some critics of the adoption ban say they oppose the ban because it puts Russian children at risk while doing nothing to harm U.S. interests.

Sunday’s rally even attracted nationalist and leftist groups that are frequent critics of the United States.

“I am against capitalism and U.S. foreign policies, but we are all united here against this terrible law,” Sergei Udaltsov, leader of the Left Front political movement, said of the adoption ban.

Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Sunday evening that he respects the protesters’ concerns, but he also defended the ban. He said the law will help create the necessary conditions to improve conditions in state institutions for orphans and allow more Russian families to adopt.