Anti-government activists said police arrested hundreds of protesters in this central Russian city Saturday in the third major crackdown...

NIZHNY NOVGOROD, Russia — Anti-government activists said police arrested hundreds of protesters in this central Russian city Saturday in the third major crackdown on a demonstration in recent months as the country prepares for parliamentary elections and a presidential vote.

Authorities had not given permission for the rally in a central square in Nizhny Novgorod, saying a demonstration could only take place far from the city center. Hundreds of riot police in full gear cordoned off the central square.

Still, organizer Natalya Morar said, several hundred protesters managed to hold a short rally — dubbed the March of Those Who Disagree — near the central square until police dragged them into buses that took them to police stations.

The activists focused on local issues such as housing reform, but they also accused the Kremlin of stifling free speech, silencing dissent and depriving them of free and fair elections.

Oksana Chelysheva, another organizer, said her group had received complaints from hundreds of people heading to the rally who said they were blocked by police from entering the city center.

Morar said hundreds of activists had been pulled off trains and buses and detained on their way to the rally.

She said several dozen journalists, including foreign reporters, were also detained.

Among those arrested was Marina Litvinovich, an aide to liberal opposition figure Garry Kasparov, a former world chess champion turned fierce critic of President Vladimir Putin.

Morar said two other organizers detained ahead of the rally were in custody on suspicion of terrorist activity. She said they have been accused of distributing pamphlets with instructions on how to become a terrorist.

Regional police spokesman Alexander Gorbatov said that only about 30 people had been detained for holding an unauthorized protest.

Since taking office in 2000, Putin has made steps to centralize power and eliminate democratic checks and balances. He has created an obedient parliament, abolished direct gubernatorial elections, tightened restrictions on rights groups and presided over the reining-in of nonstate television channels.