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Clashes as anti-Putin protestors take to streets in Moscow

Police clashed with protestors opposed to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in Moscow yesterday. Thousands of people gathered to accuse his party of rigging the weekend’s parliamentary election.

Russian police officers detain an opposition member after he and other members marched along one of the central streets in downtown Moscow yesterday
Russian police officers detain an opposition member after he and other members marched along one of the central streets in downtown Moscow yesterday
Image: AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev

RIOTS BROKE OUT in Moscow last night as several thousand protestors took to the streets and accused Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s party of rigging this weekend’s parliamentary election.

This protest was perhaps the biggest opposition rally in years, ending with police detaining about 300 activists.

A group of several hundred marched toward the Central Elections Commission near the Kremlin, but were stopped by riot police and taken away in buses.

The Guardian reports that among those detained were opposition leaders Alexey Navalny and Ilya Yashin.

It also said that several journalists were detained.

Estimates of the number of protestors ranged from 2,000 to 8,000.

In St Petersburg, police detained about 120 protestors.

United Russia won about 50 percent of Sunday’s vote, a result that opposition politicians and election monitors said was inflated because of ballot-box stuffing and other vote fraud. It was a significant drop from the last election, when the party took 64 percent.

It was a substantial symbolic blow to a party that had become virtually indistinguishable from the state itself.

The result has also energised the opposition and poses a challenge to Putin, the country’s dominant figure, in his drive to return to the presidency.

Putin, who became prime minister in 2008 because of presidential term limits, will run for a third term in March.

More than 400 Communist Party supporters also gathered Monday to express their indignation over the election, which some called the dirtiest in modern Russian history. The Communists finished second with about 20 percent of the vote.

Many Russians have come to despise United Russia, seeing it as the engine of endemic corruption. The balloting showed voters that they have power despite what election monitors called a dishonest count.

Some analysts suggested the vote was a wake-up call to Putin that he had lost touch with the country.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Washington has “serious concerns” about the elections.

Other than the Communist Party, the socialist Just Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party led by nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky are also expected to increase their representation in the Duma.

Two liberal parties were in the running, but neither got the 7 percent of the national vote needed to win seats.

About 60 percent of Russia’s 110 million registered voters cast ballots, down from 64 percent four years ago.

Social media were flooded with messages reporting violations. Many people reported seeing buses deliver groups of people to polling stations, with some of the buses carrying young men who looked like football fans, who often are associated with violent nationalism.

Russia’s only independent election monitoring group, Golos, which is funded by US and European grants, had its website incapacitated on Sunday by hackers. Its director Lilya Shibanova and her deputy had their mobile phone numbers, email and social media accounts hacked.

- Additional reporting by AP

Read: Putin’s party hangs onto its majority – just>

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