Police and Protesters Clash in Moscow

Police and demonstrators clashed and hundred of arrests were made in central Moscow on Monday night during protests against widespread fraud in Sunday’s election of Vladimir Putin to a third term as Russia’s president.

Moscow riot police detain an activist during an unsacnctioned anti-Putin opposition rally at the Pushkin Square March 5, 2012 in central Moscow, Russia.
Konstantin Zavrazhin
Moscow riot police detain an activist during an unsacnctioned anti-Putin opposition rally at the Pushkin Square March 5, 2012 in central Moscow, Russia.

Police said the protest, which began peacefully, numbered 14,000, while organizers claimed 20,000. When police tried to clear Pushkin Square at 9:45 p.m., a group refused to leave and scuffles broke out.

Among those arrested was Alexei Navalny, the charismatic anti-corruption blogger who has become one of the main opposition leaders, though he was later released. Earlier, Mr. Navalny led the crowds in a roaring chant as he denounced the elections as falsified and illegitimate.

“It was a difficult day yesterday, many were disappointed. But what did you expect from this band of swindlers and thieves? They have been stealing from the country for the last 12 years. Yesterday they stole from us again.”

“Who is the power here? We are the power here!” he raged, as protesters chanted.

He later blogged: “Hello everyone from the police van.”

Sergei Udaltsov, leader of radical group Left Front, declared, “We keep coming and going, but this time we are going to stay,” vowing not to quit Pushkin Square, the site of the protest one kilometer from the Kremlin. Putin denounced from microphone.

One by one, opposition leaders took the microphone last night to denounce Vladimir Putin’s presidential election victory, writes Catherine Belton in Moscow.

Leading chants of “Putin is a thief!”, blogger Alexei Navalny announced: “We are not going to leave here until the regime falls!”

“Is there a legal power in the parliament? Is there a legal power in the Kremlin?” he asked as the crowd roared back “No!”

Ilya Yashin mocked the tears that rolled down Mr. Putin cheeks as he celebrated victory on Sunday night.

“These were tears of fear in the eyes of a dictator. He understood that he had lost the trust of the population,” Mr. Yashin said.

Mikhail Prokorov, the billionaire turned presidential candidate, also took to the stage to denounce what he called “dishonest elections” and vowing to build a new party independent from the Kremlin. Many attending cheered the controversial tycoon, but many whistled too.

Vladimir Ryzhkov called for another demonstration on Saturday March 10.

There were up to 100 arrests during a separate, unsanctioned march in front of the headquarters of Russia’s Federal Security Service, according to Russian news agencies.

Support for Mr. Putin has fallen in Moscow since demonstrations broke out three months ago over similarly flawed parliamentary elections.

While few dispute that Mr. Putin would almost certainly have won re-election regardless of fraud, foreign and domestic election monitoring organizations criticized the Kremlin for running an unfair race and claimed they detected widespread irregularities during Sunday’s poll. Rival parties and candidates were disqualified, they said, while Mr. Putin received 70 percent of airtime on state-controlled television.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europesaid Mr. Putin, who according to preliminary results won 63.6 percent of the vote nationwide, had abused government resources to secure victory.

“There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt,” said Tonino Picula, one of the OSCE monitors. “The point of elections is that they should be uncertain: this was not the case in Russia.” Voting conditions had been “bad” to “very bad” at a third of the observed polling stations, the OSCE said, with most irregularities occurring during the ballot count.

International reaction to Mr. Putin’s victory was distinctly cool. The US State Department chastised Russia for the flawed vote, saying: “We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations.”

However, Alain Juppé, France’s foreign minister, acknowledged Mr. Putin as “our interlocutor for the coming years”.

“One can say that overall, despite [the] criticisms, the re-election of president Putin is not in question,” he said.