MOSCOW (DPA) – Tens of thousands of people took part in a peaceful protest march through central Moscow on Sunday to mourn opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was killed in a drive-by shooting days earlier.
"[President Vladimir] Putin must resign," the crowd chanted as it edged along the Bolshoi Moskvoretsky bridge directly next to the Kremlin, where unknown gunmen fired four bullets at the veteran politician late Friday.
Participants held flowers and waved Russian flags draped with black ribbons to honour Nemtsov. Many carried placards featuring the politician's face, while others held up signs reading "I have no words."
While police spoke of 21,000 participants, the non-governmental volunteer group tasked with counting participants said that 51,600 had passed metal detectors before the march.
The latter figure is more than double as high as last year's equivalent, but still far less than the mass opposition marches in the winter of 2011/2012, which drew as many as 200,000 people to the streets of Moscow.
Putin has not spoken publicly about the killing, which has galvanized Russia's fractured opposition.
He said through his spokesman Dmitry Peskov that the murder was a "provocation" and on Saturday his office published a telegram to Nemtsov's mother, in which the president expresses his condolences.
Nemtsov, who served as Russian deputy prime minister in the late 1990s and was a sharp critic of Putin since 2000, is the most prominent politician to have been assassinated in post-Soviet Russia.
Many participants in Sunday's march blamed the government for the killing, with some carrying posters saying "Propaganda Kills."
A protester, who only gave her first name, Tatyana, carried a placard listing Russia's four main state television channels under the headline "The four bullets that killed Boris Nemtsov."
Russian state media frequently label Nemtsov and other opposition leaders as "enemies of the people" and "fifth columnists" paid by the West.
In response to the upheaval in Ukraine, radical government supporters recently formed an "anti-Maidan" movement, after Kiev's independence square, where the revolution in Ukraine took off one year ago.
Nemtsov had been a vocal critic of Putin's Ukraine policies and had accused him of waging an undeclared war in Russia's western neighbour.
During the march, police detained a member of the Ukrainian parliament. Investigators might open a criminal case against Oleksiy Honcharenko in relation to events in Odessa in May, where more than 40 people died in clashes between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian protesters, the Interfax news agency reported.
Investigators said Sunday that they will further question the main witness of Nemtsov's murder, Ukrainian model Anna Duritskaya, who was walking home with him when he was killed.
Russia's Investigative Committee offered a 3 million rouble (50,000 dollars) reward for information relevant to solve the case.
The committee, a powerful agency that reports directly to Putin, did not comment on video surveillance camera footage published by Moscow's TV Tsentr state television channel that suggests the killer might have fired the shots from behind a street cleaning lorry.
The footage, which was recorded from a great distance, shows the lorry slowly driving past the silhouettes of two pedestrians believed to be Nemtsov and Duritskaya.
When the vehicle passes, only one pedestrian remains and another person is seen running from the lorry towards a passing car, which stops on the middle of the road, lets the person get in, and quickly drives away.
The Committee has suggested that Nemtsov could have been killed by opposition members who want to destabilize the country.
The agency also said that the crime might be linked to Islamist extremists because of Nemtsov's criticism of the attack on French magazine Charlie Hebdo, or to "radicals" from either side of the conflict inside Ukraine.
Opposition supporters and independent observers have dismissed the official versions and expressed fear that the killing will fuel more political violence in the country.
Oleg Orlov, a prominent activist who heads the Memorial human rights organization, said that he was pessimistic about the future. "This will continue and the government's storm troopers will carry out more provocative acts," he told dpa during the protest march.
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