Germany and France have criticized the detentions of more than 1,000 people at an unsanctioned demonstration in Moscow, saying the authorities used disproportionate force against peaceful protesters.
The detentions were "not proportional to the peaceful character" of the rally, the German Foreign Ministry said on August 4, while France's Foreign Ministry condemned a "clearly excessive use of force" in the police crackdown.
The statements came a day after riot police cracked down on protesters who had gathered in Moscow to demand free municipal polls, detaining at least 1,001 people, according to the independent political watchdog OVD-Info.
The detention of more than 1,300 people during a similar rally in Moscow on July 27 triggered international condemnation.
"The repeated interventions into the warranted right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression violate Russia's international duties and question the right to free and fair elections emphatically," the German Foreign Ministry said in its statement.
The ministry called for "the swift release of all peaceful protesters" and the inclusion of independent candidates who meet all legal requirements in the municipal elections scheduled for September.
A spokesman for the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Paris "insists on freedom of expression in all its forms, including that of demonstrating peacefully and taking part in free and transparent elections."
Amnesty International said the "unnecessary and excessive" use of force by police and "unfounded charges" against protesters was "symptomatic of the Kremlin's deep contempt for human rights and its determination to crush peaceful protest."
Moscow has witnessed protests since authorities there in July banned multiple opposition candidates from running in the September 8 vote.
The opposition say local officials want to keep them out from the elections, fearing they will beat pro-Kremlin candidates. Local election officials say the rejected candidates submitted invalid signatures among the required 5,500 to get on the ballot.
The Moscow City Duma, which has 45 seats, is responsible for a $43 billion municipal budget and is now controlled by the pro-Kremlin United Russia party. All of its seats, which have a five-year-term, are up for grabs in the elections.
On August 3, demonstrators were aiming to hold a march along the Boulevard Ring that skirts the center of the Russian capital, but OMON riot police were deployed ahead of the planned protest, making it nearly impossible for demonstrators to gather.
Video from the demonstration shows officers using their batons against demonstrators while making arrests.
Many of those detained were later released by police, but OVD-Info said 19 were kept in custody overnight.
It said some of those detained had their phones confiscated and were denied access to a lawyer.
A rally in support of the Moscow protests was held in St. Petersburg on August 3, drawing several thousand people, the local news site Fontanka.ru reported.
There were no reports of arrests during that rally, which had not been banned by local authorities.
Several would-be candidates to the Moscow City Duma have faced harassment ahead of the Moscow rally, including arrests and home searches.
Authorities opened criminal proceedings for what they term mass civil unrest, an offence which carries a penalty of up to 15 years in jail.
Opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and at least seven of his allies are in jail for breaking tough protest laws.
Russia's Investigative Committee announced on August 3 it was opening a criminal case against Navalny's anti-corruption foundation, saying the organization was suspected of receiving funding that had been criminally acquired.
Navalny and his allies say the foundation is transparently financed from public donations.
Leonid Volkov, a top aide to Navalny, said late on August 3 that the politician's movement planned to organize a nationwide protest on August 10 to demand that jailed activists be released, that opposition candidates be allowed to run in the Moscow elections, and that the city's mayor resign.
Volkov tweeted that the opposition did not plan to ask Moscow authorities for permission to protest but would do so in other cities.