MOSCOW — Answering a protest call issued from behind bars by the jailed Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny, small crowds of mostly young people gathered in towns across Russia on Saturday in a wave of nationwide demonstrations. The protests were timed to coincide with the 65th birthday of President Vladimir V. Putin.
The turnout for the protests, which began in Vladivostok in Russia’s Far East and then rolled westward throughout the day, was considerably smaller than in two previous days of nationwide rallies called by Mr. Navalny in March and June.
But their geographical reach confirmed the anti-corruption campaigner as Mr. Putin’s best organized and most determined political foe.
In Moscow, torrential rain, a heavy police presence and fears of a harsh crackdown dampened the fervor of Mr. Navalny’s supporters, with only a few hundred people gathering in Pushkin Square in the center of the city to chant slogans against Mr. Putin and the corruption that has become an endemic feature of his increasingly authoritarian rule. In comparison, thousands had gathered in Moscow and other cities in the earlier days of protest Mr. Navalny, 41, had organized.
“Happy birthday Putin and goodbye,” youthful protesters chanted, mocking the Kremlin leader who if, as expected, wins a presidential election next year, will be over 70 when his term ends.
OVD-Info, a nonprofit organization, reported that more than 260 protesters had been arrested by early Saturday evening, a smaller number than during the previous, bigger protests organized by Mr. Navalny.
Nonetheless, the crackdown seems to have been severe in some towns, particularly St. Petersburg, where at least 66 people were arrested, and photographs posted on social media showed protesters splattered with blood after their arrests.
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