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Thousands march for murdered Kremlin critic Nemtsov

Russia's opposition supporters wave flags and placards during a march in memory of murdered Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov in central Moscow on Sunday. (AFP)
MOSCOW: Several thousand Muscovites marched Sunday in frigid temperatures in memory of Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov who was gunned down three years ago, a rare sanctioned opposition gathering ahead of next month's presidential vote.
Prominent opposition figures joined ordinary Muscovites for the commemorative march in the center of the Russian capital where temperatures dipped below minus 14 Celsius (7 Fahrenheit).
Some participants carried portraits of Nemtsov and flowers, while others held placards reading "I am not afraid" and "We remember, we won't forgive."
Some chanted "Putin is a thief."
The rare permitted opposition gathering came ahead of March 18 presidential election widely expected to extend President Vladimir Putin's Kremlin rule until 2024.
Nemtsov, one of the most vocal Putin critics, was gunned down shortly before midnight on Feb. 27, 2015, while walking across a bridge a short distance from the Kremlin.
In 2017, a court found a former officer from Chechnya guilty of murdering Nemtsov and sentenced him to 20 years in prison. Four other men were found guilty of involvement in the killing.
But Nemtsov's family and allies insist the authorities have failed to bring the masterminds to justice and point the finger of blame at Chechnya's Moscow-backed strongman Ramzan Kadyrov — and the Kremlin itself.
"The Putin regime killed a man but the masterminds have not been found," one of the participants, Mikhail Kononenko, a 20-year-old student, told AFP.
Opposition politicians said that three years after Nemtsov's murder the atmosphere in the country had gotten worse, with tolerance for dissent shrinking even further.
"Those who ordered the assassination are free, no one has looked for them," said Sergei Mitrokhin, a leader of the liberal party Yabloko.
In the second city of Saint Petersburg several hundred people turned up, some carrying placards that read "Down with the evil empire" and "Putin, where is the mastermind?"
One of the participants, Sergei Arkhipov, slammed the suffocating atmosphere of Putin's Russia.
"There is no air in the country," said the 55-year-old. "Dissent is being punished."
Galina Samoilenko, 38, said she was sad to see that not too many people turned up.
"Perhaps people are afraid. Or maybe they don't care."
Moscow Mayor Sergei Sobyanin has said that a commemorative plaque would be put up on the Moscow block where Nemtsov, a former deputy prime minister in the government of Boris Yeltsin, lived.