Russian mass protests over alleged election fraud

 

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Russia
today to demand an end to Vladimir Putin's rule and a rerun of a
parliamentary election in the biggest opposition protests since he rose
to power more than a decade ago.

Protesters waved banners such as "The rats should go!" and "Swindlers and thieves - give us our elections back!" in cities from the Pacific port of Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west, nearly 7,400 km (4,600 miles) away.

Riot police were out in force with dogs and in trucks, but they did little to douse protests that showed a groundswell of discontent with Putin as he prepares to reclaim the presidency next year, and anger over the Dec. 4 election which the opposition says was rigged to favour his United Russia party.

"Today 60,000, maybe 100,000 people, have come to this rally," former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in a speech to flag-waving and chanting protesters packed into Bolotnaya Square across the Moscow River from the Kremlin.

"This means today is the beginning of the end for these thieving authorities," said Kasyanov, who now leads an opposition movement which was barred from the election.

People of all ages gathered in Moscow, many carrying white carnations as the symbol of their protest and some waving pictures of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev declaring: "Guys, it's time to go." Helicopters at times buzzed overhead.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader, read out a list of demands including annulling the election and holding a new one, registering opposition parties, dismissing the election commission head and freeing people the protesters call political prisoners.

"Russia has changed today - the future has changed," he said, urging demonstrators to come out for new protests on Dec. 24. The crowd chanted, "We'll be back!"

But Konstantin Kosachyov, a United Russia lawmaker authorised to speak on behalf of the Kremlin, ruled out negotiations on the organisers' demands and said: "With all respect for the people who came out to protest, they are not a political party."

The rallies, many of them held in freezing snow, were a test of the opposition's ability to turn public anger into a mass protest movement on the scale of the Arab Spring rebellions that brought down rulers in the Middle East and North Africa.

Most Russian political experts say the former KGB spy who has dominated the world's largest energy producer for 12 years is in little immediate danger of being toppled and that protests are hard to keep going across such a vast country.

But they say Putin's authority has been badly damaged and may gradually fade away when he returns as president unless he answers demands ranging from holding fair elections to reducing the huge gap between rich and poor.

"The time has come to throw off the chains," one of the main opposition figures, blogger Alexei Navalny, said in a message sent from jail following his arrest in a protest in Monday.

"We are not cattle or slaves. We have a voice and we have the strength to defend it," he said in the message, which drew cheers when it was read out from the stage by Oleg Kashin, an opposition journalist.

Protests on such a big scale were unthinkable before last Sunday's election, in which Putin's United Russia won a vastly reduced, slim majority in the lower house.

But in a sign that the Kremlin has started to sense the change of mood, most of Saturday's rallies were approved by city authorities hoping to avoid violence. State television showed footage of the protests - but no direct criticism of Putin.

Invited by messages sent on social media, people protested in dozens of cities such as Vladivostok, Novosibirsk in Siberia, Arkhangelsk in the Arctic north, in Kaliningrad and St Petersburg in the west, and in the Karelia region near Finland.

Police broke up an unapproved protest by about 400 people in Kurgan, on Russia's border with Kazakhstan, and at least 20 were detained in Khabarovsk near Russia's border with China, Russian news agencies said. Ten were held in St Petersburg, police said.

In Moscow, people of all ages gathered, many wearing white armbands or carrying white carnations they said were the symbols of their protest. "Putin must go," read a big banner in the midst of the crowd.

"This is history in the making for Russia. The people are coming out to demand justice for the first time in two decades, justice in the elections," said Anton, 41, a financial services sector employee who gave only his first name. He wore a white ribbon he said symbolised dissent.

"I want new elections, not a revolution," said Ernst Kryavitsky, 75, a retired electrician dressed in a long brown coat and hat against the falling snow.

At least 100 trucks of riot police were parked near the Kremlin and columns of police trucks drove around the capital. Police put the number of protesters at around 25,000, and organisers said it was up to 150,000.

Medvedev has denied the allegations of fraud in the election. Putin has accused the United States of encouraging and financing the protesters.

The protesters were mainly angered by the election, in which they say only cheating prevented United Russia's result being worse. International monitors also said the ruling party had an unfair advantage and that they had evidence of ballot-stuffing.

Putin, 59, remains Russia's most popular leader in opinion polls, and has dominated the country under a political system in which power revolves around him. Far from all Russians wanted to take to the streets to protest.

"We think all these rallies, they're not right, because you need to work for justice in legal ways," said Lyudmila Mashenko, owner of a small business walking with her grandson in Moscow.

Some protesters want new elections but still back Putin.

"I came here today mainly to say that I don't agree with the result of election," the manager of an IT company in St Petersburg who gave her name only as Dasha.

But Putin has seen his support - won by restoring order after the chaos of the 1990s following the collapse of the Soviet Union - slip in opinion polls.

Many Russians felt disenfranchised in September when he and Medvedev announced plans to swap jobs after the presidential election and said they had taken the decision years ago.

Reuters

Voices
voicesSiobhan Norton on why she eventually changed her mind
Life and Style
fashion Designs are part of feminist art project by a British student
News
Snoop Dogg pictured at The Hollywood Reporter Nominees' Night in February, 2013
people... says Snoop Dogg
News
i100
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
food + drinkZebra meat is exotic and lean - but does it taste good?
Arts and Entertainment
Residents of Derby Road in Southampton oppose filming of Channel 4 documentary Immigration Street in their community
tv
Arts and Entertainment
The Tour de France peloton rides over a bridge on the Grinton Moor, Yorkshire, earlier this month
film
News
i100
Extras
indybest
Sport
Scottish singer Susan Boyle will perform at the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony in Glasgow
commonwealth games
News
Lane Del Rey performing on the Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury 2014
people... but none of them helped me get a record deal, insists Lana Del Rey
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules
filmReview: The Rock is a muscular Davy Crockett in this preposterous film, says Geoffrey Macnab
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SAP Business Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £55,000, Wakefield

£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...

Java Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

SAP Functional Consultant (SD, MM and FICO), £45,000 - £55,000.

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...

Javascript Developer

£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...

Day In a Page

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy': A land of the outright bizarre

Noel Fielding's 'Luxury Comedy'

A land of the outright bizarre
What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

What are the worst 'Word Crimes'?

‘Weird Al’ Yankovic's latest video is an ode to good grammar. But what do The Independent’s experts think he’s missed out?
Can Secret Cinema sell 80,000 'Back to the Future' tickets?

The worst kept secret in cinema

A cult movie event aims to immerse audiences of 80,000 in ‘Back to the Future’. But has it lost its magic?
Facebook: The new hatched, matched and dispatched

The new hatched, matched and dispatched

Family events used to be marked in the personal columns. But now Facebook has usurped the ‘Births, Deaths and Marriages’ announcements
Why do we have blood types?

Are you my type?

All of us have one but probably never wondered why. Yet even now, a century after blood types were discovered, it’s a matter of debate what they’re for
Honesty box hotels: You decide how much you pay

Honesty box hotels

Five hotels in Paris now allow guests to pay only what they think their stay was worth. It seems fraught with financial risk, but the honesty policy has its benefit
Commonwealth Games 2014: Why weight of pressure rests easy on Michael Jamieson’s shoulders

Michael Jamieson: Why weight of pressure rests easy on his shoulders

The Scottish swimmer is ready for ‘the biggest race of my life’ at the Commonwealth Games
Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn