Opposition activists and supporters take part in an anti-Putin protest in central Moscow on September 15
Russian opposition leaders argued Sunday over the turnout and success of the latest rally defying President Vladimir Putin, after tens of thousands marched through central Moscow.
The rally on Saturday, called the March of Millions, featured playful T-shirts and slogans mocking Putin and calling for the release of jailed punk band Pussy Riot, but crowds thinned long before it ended at 10:00 pm.
Police put numbers at around 14,000, down from 18,000 at a previous rally in June. But rally organisers gave varying estimates of up to 150,000.
Influential business dailies Vedomosti and Kommersant headlined their stories on sparse crowds: "They buried the opposition at the March of Millions" and "Phantom of the opposition".
"The crowd reacted in general with indifference to the orators' speeches at the rally on Prospekt Sakharova street and people started drifting away less than an hour after the protest began," wrote Kommersant.
"There were not more than 20,000 people at the march to the rally," wrote Vedomosti.
The organisers reacted with indignation.
"It is amazing that Kommersant and Vedomosti have written such rubbish about the rally. Their correspondents were evidently not on the stage," opposition lawmaker Dmitry Gudkov retorted on Twitter.
"Who was it shouting that the march failed?" the lawmaker from the centre-left A Just Russia party wrote in his blog, posting a photograph of protesters packing a boulevard.
"It's obvious that there were more people than on June 12. That is the main thing: protest is growing," A Just Russia lawmaker Ilya Ponomaryov wrote on Moscow Echo radio station's website.
"There were 42 to 56,000 people, which on the one hand is of course a lot, but on the otherFormer liberal cabinet member Boris Nemtsov, who spoke at the rally, criticised those who "joyfully announce the protest has gone sour" in his blog on Sunday, but denied the protest movement was growing. hand means the turnout for the protests is not growing," he said.
Prominent protest organiser Sergei Udaltsov of the radical Left Front movement put numbers far higher, at 150,000, but argued the rally had failed to make any political impact.
"Today's march confirmed the status quo: the protest is not declining, but the authorities are ignoring it. The situation is still heading for a dead end," he wrote on Twitter.
Udaltsov was detained at the end of the rally with two other protesters for allegedly disobeying police and attempting to lead protesters on an unsanctioned march to a nearby park. He was later charged with a public order offence.
"The police spoilt a peaceful protest, carrying out detentions at the end that were not motivated by anything," Udaltsov told the Moscow Echo radio station.
As protests were held across the country, police broke up an unsanctioned rally in the Volga city of Nizhny Novgorod and a video posted on YouTube showed an officer hitting a young woman on the head with his rubber truncheon.
The interior ministry said Sunday it had launched a probe into the incident after the victim was diagnosed with a "contusion of the soft tissues of the head".