More than 20,000 people already have signed up on Facebook to take part in the demonstration. But Deputy Mayor Alexander Gorbenko asked organizers to reduce the number of protesters to 10,000, hold it away from the city center and delay it until the next morning.
“From the point of view of safety, their request can’t be approved,” Gorbenko said. “With so many participants it would possible to hold it somewhere in a suburb.”
The organizers said they were certain that city authorities were following the directive of Kremlin officials, and that they were ready for a reasonable compromise.
“We are continuing negotiations with the authorities, and if they have an instinct for self-preservation, in the end they have to allow our march,” said Boris Nemtsov, a former first deputy prime minister who is now an opposition leader.
Another opposition movement leader, Gennady Gudkov, who is deputy head of the lower house of the parliament's security committee, said it would be impossible to reduce the number of participants. The protest can be moved, he said, but it should still take place in the center of Russia's sprawling capital.
Nemtsov and Gudkov have been targets recently of what appears to be a campaign of dirty tricks aimed at worsening division in the opposition to Putin, who is seeking to regain Russia's presidency in a March election.
A website controlled by a Kremlin-friendly publisher released an audio tape and transcripts of private telephone conversations in which Nemtsov strongly criticized some other opposition leaders. Nemtsov had to publicly apologize.
A video of Gudkov having lunch with another opposition leader and also speaking critically of some of their colleagues was posted on Youtube.
Marches in December drew tens of thousands of people who demonstrated over alleged fraud in parliamentary elections. The Kremlin reacted by promising some reforms but refused to annul results showing that the ruling party got almost 50%.
At least four presidential candidates, including Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and Mikhail Prokhorov, a tycoon and owner of the NBA's New Jersey Nets, reportedly intend to join the protest march in early February.
--Sergei L. Loiko
Photo: Gennady Gudkov, center, attends a massive rally Dec. 10, 2011, to protest alleged vote rigging in Russia's parliamentary elections in Moscow. Credit: Alexander Zemlianichenko / Associated Press