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Dublin: 4 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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In pictures: Thousands of Russians join biggest protests since Soviet era

Tens of thousands of people thronged Moscow to demand an end to the rule of Vladimir Putin.

Image: Sergey Ponomarev/AP/Press Association Images

TENS OF THOUSANDS of people today held the largest anti-government protests that post-Soviet Russia has ever seen to criticise electoral fraud and demand an end to Vladimir Putin’s rule.

Police showed surprising restraint and state-controlled TV gave the nationwide demonstrations unexpected airtime.

Putin’s United Party retained a narrow majority in recent parliamentary elections, though it lost a substantial share of its seats.

The independent Russian election-observer group Golos said Saturday that the party “achieved the majority mandate by falsification.”

International observers reported widespread irregularities, and the outpouring of Russians publicly denouncing him throughout the country undermines Putin’s carefully nurtured image of a strong and beloved leader.

Putin “has stopped being the national leader — in the eyes of his team, the ruling political class and society,” analyst Alexei Malachenko of the Moscow Carnegie Center wrote on his blog.

Putin, who was the president of Russia in 2000-2008 before stepping aside because of term limits, will seek a new term in the Kremlin in the March presidential elections.

The most dramatic of Saturday’s protests saw a vast crowd jam an expansive Moscow square and adjacent streets, packed so tight that some demonstrators stood on others’ toes. Although police estimated the crowd at 30,000, aerial photographs suggested far more, and protest organizers made claims ranging from 40,000 to 100,000 or more.

Elsewhere in Russia, some 7,000 protesters assembled in St Petersburg, and demonstrations ranging from a few hundred people to a thousand took place in more than 60 other cities. Police reported only about 100 arrests nationwide, a notably low number for a force that characteristically quick and harsh action against opposition gatherings.

State-controlled television, which generally ignores or disparages opposition groups, broadcast footage not only of the Moscow protest — which was so big it would have been hard not to report — but in several other cities as well.

In pictures: Thousands of Russians join biggest protests since Soviet era
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  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Protesters with a huge banner reading "Crooks give us the election back" (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Police vehicles on Zamoskvoretsky bridge in Moscow (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Protesters shout anti-Putin slogans (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Protesters in Moscow (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    A demonstrator wears a red scarf with the Communist party insignia and a hat reading USSR, in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk (AP Photo/Ilnar Salakhiev)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    A demonstrator holds a poster reading "We need real democracy" during a protest in the Siberian city of Novosibirsk (AP Photo/Ilnar Salakhiev)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Protesters light flares during the rally (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Protesters burn a flag of Putin's United Russia party (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Police guard the Red Square area during the protest (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    A protester shouts slogans in front of police lines (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    Protesters wave a red flag, a symbol of revolution (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
  • Thousands join anti-Putin protest

    A protester hold a home-made sign (AP Photo/Sergey Ponomarev)

United Russia official Andrei Isayev on Saturday acknowledged that the opposition “point of view is extremely important and will be heard in the mass media, society and the state.”

Yet the concessions may be only a way of buying time in hope the protests will wither away.

In addition, the social media that nourished Saturday’s protests may be coming under pressure. A top official of the Russian Facebook analog Vkontakte said this week his company has been pressured by the Federal Security Service to block opposition supporters from posting. On Friday, he was summoned by the service for questioning.

Meanwhile, though United Russia may be shaken by the last week’s events, it still can count on a large cadre of supporters. The head of its youth wing, Timur Prokopenko, was quoted by the Interfax news agency as saying he had nearly 170,000 activists “who are ready at moment to go to rallies” in support of the government.

Thousands of protesters also were allowed to march from a gathering place near the Kremlin across downtown to a square where the main rally was held. Police were out in force, blocking all side lanes to prevent the demonstrators from approaching government buildings.

“Russia will be free!” ”Russia without Putin!” ”United Russia is a Party of Crooks and Thieves!” protesters chanted.

More: Huge day of protest against vote fraud begins in Russia>

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