Valdimir Putin's spokesman yesterday defended police action against protesters decrying the Russian politician's presidential election victory, as final results showed that in some parts of Chechnya, Mr Putin had polled an improbable 99.89 per cent of the vote.
Dmitry Peskov, the Prime Minister's spokesman, said the police had shown "high level of professionalism, legitimacy and effectiveness" in their handling of the event at Pushkin Square in Moscow on Monday night.
After the majority of the 20,000 crowd had dispersed, several hundred people remained on the square and were dragged away by riot police and detained. The police response and Mr Peskov's remarks appear to be meant as a clear signal to the opposition that they will only be allowed to protest in "authorised" places and times.
All of the 250 arrested, including leaders Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, were released within a few hours, and leaders of the informal opposition coalition are now trying to ensure the protest voice does not fade as Russia's longest-standing post-Soviet leader prepares to begin a new six-year presidential term in May.
Meanwhile, more detailed official results of Sunday's elections were published yesterday, causing more concern. In one polling district in Chechnya, Mr Putin received 25,675 votes, equating to 99.89 per cent of the vote, while none of the other candidates made it into double figures.
Many of the other republics in the troubled North Caucasus region also polled improbably high pro-Putin results. On a new live talk show broadcast online yesterday, a girl said she had been offered £100 to vote five times for Mr Putin in Moscow.
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