With an eye toward divisions among the opposition groups here, Moscow city officials on Friday turned down an application for permission to hold a protest march Feb. 4, saying security was a problem.

That step appeared to be an opening gambit in an effort to drive a wedge into the opposition as the March 4 presidential election approaches — because some organizers have been willing to negotiate over location and others are adamant that they won’t.

Deputy Mayor Alexander Gorbenko said the city will propose several alternatives to the proposed march route and also wants to move the protest to Sunday, Feb. 5, the Interfax agency reported. One opposition politician, Boris Nemtsov, later said he was “mildly” optimistic an agreement could be reached.

Some of Nemtsov’s colleagues are certain to be less accommodating. Feb. 4 was chosen for the protest because it is the 22nd anniversary of a huge pro-democracy march in Moscow that led to the renunciation by the Soviet Communist Party of its “leading role” in society. Opposition groups wanted to follow the same route as that one did, from Gorky Park to Manezh Square.

In another sign of fragmentation, a coalition of nationalist groups applied for a separate rally permit for Feb. 4 and were turned down Friday. Gorbenko suggested they cut their request to 10,000 participants from 50,000 and stage their protest in an outer region of the city.