MOSCOW - Undeterred by a sudden escalation in the Kremlin's crackdown on the opposition, tens of thousands of Russians have attended the first mass protest against President Vladimir Putin since his inauguration in May.
Opposition leaders put the number of protesters in Moscow yesterday at 120,000, while police estimated that about 20,000 showed up.
After previously tolerating the protests, Putin has taken a tougher stance since embarking on his third presidential term, including signing a repressive new bill last week that stiffens penalties for taking part in unauthorised rallies.
Police on Monday searched opposition leaders' apartments, carting away computers, mobile phones and other personal items.
They also demanded that opposition leaders come in for questioning yesterday, a public holiday for Russia Day. They were ordered to appear just an hour before the rally began, in what was widely seen as a crude attempt to scare away the protesters.
Leftist politician Sergei Udaltsov snubbed the summons, saying he considered it his duty to lead the protest as one of its organisers. He spoke at the rally and then appeared for questioning after it was over.
Anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, liberal activist Ilya Yashin and TV host Ksenia Sobchak showed up for questioning in the morning.
Yashin made it to the rally in time to speak at the end, but Navalny's interrogation lasted more than six hours and then investigators drove him to his office to conduct another search.
"It's horrible to sit here while you are having fun," Navalny tweeted from the Investigative Committee headquarters.
Investigative Committee spokesman Vladimir Markin said police had found more than one million euros ($F2.33 million) and $US480,000 ($F880,000) in cash at Sobchak's apartment and investigators were looking into whether she had paid her taxes.
Sobchak, a glamorous 30-year-old socialite described by some as Russia's equivalent of Paris Hilton, insisted that she had done nothing wrong and was keeping her savings at home because she doesn't trust banks.