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On eve of Putin's inauguration, protest and reaction bigger than expected (+video)

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Among those reportedly arrested following the clashes with police were key opposition leaders Sergei Udaltsov, Boris Nemtsov, and anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny.

"No one expected it to end like this; the police reaction was way too harsh," says Alexei Larionov, an economist who says he hasn't attended a protest since 1991. "I got hit myself. It certainly looked like the police were under orders to be really tough. I think that had a lot to do with Putin's inauguration tomorrow. They wanted to give us a clear warning. But I don't think protests will stop because of this. This will continue."

Dissent from 'managed democracy'

The wave of protests broke out in December, shattering Russia's facade of pro-Kremlin social harmony, and throwing up a new generation of political leaders whose roots are in civil society rather than the strictly-orchestrated political system of "managed democracy."

The reaction of the authorities was not to crack down with police violence, as in the past, but to sponsor a raft of political reforms designed to take some of the wind out of protester's sails. They included an easing of requirements to officially register a political party, a return to direct elections for regional governors – albeit with Kremlin "filters" to prevent surprises – and possible establishment of a public TV channel independent of state control.

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