Russian activists say they plan to continue protesting against Vladimir Putin’s victory in presidential elections after hundreds of people were detained at opposition rallies in Moscow and Saint Petersburg.
Police reported detaining 250 people in the Russian capital and another 370 in Putin’s home city on Monday night, although they said most had been released on Tuesday morning.
“Tens of thousands will be coming out on the streets of Moscow and other cities and refusing to leave,” Alexei Navalny, a popular anti-corruption blogger who has become a figurehead of the anti-Putin movement, told reporters on Tuesday after his release. “We will keep doing this until our demands are met.”
Navalny and two other activist leaders were due to attend hearings on Tuesday after refusing to break up a rally in Moscow late on Monday when police told protesters to disperse.
|Russia election branding|
Putin won Sunday’s presidential election with 63.6 per cent of the vote and in May will be sworn in to serve for a six-year term.
Putin has dominated Russian politics since the beginning of the 21st century, serving two terms as president between 2000 and 2008, before stepping down to become prime minister under current President Dmitry Medvedev.
But European monitors and Putin’s domestic opposition have raised concerns about the legitimacy of the election.
Opposition leaders said they would cancel a protest planned for the International Woman’s Day public holiday on Thursday and would now prepare for mass events over the weekend.
“The awakening of society,” was the headline for a front-page editorial in the respected Vedomosti daily analysing the difficulties Putin was likely to encounter on his return to the Kremlin.
‘Stagnation and fear’
“The possible return of Putin for two more terms has brought on fears of stagnation and despair,” it said.
The latest protests follow similar demonstrations after fraud-tainted parliamentary election on December 4.
The ruling party’s disputed victory then initiated the first sustained wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations since the Soviet era and the movement will now hope to use observers’ criticism of Sunday’s ballot to spur on their campaign.
European observers led by the OSCE said better transparency was eclipsed by the fact that “conditions were clearly skewed” in favour of Putin.
Russia’s independent monitoring group Golos said the polls “were neither free nor fair.”
Some Moscow dailies noted that the Moscow rally marked the first time since the biggest wave of post-Soviet rallies began in December that police had moved in to disperse a demonstration.
It also featured the first speaking appearance by tycoon and third-place election candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, an independent who has promised to build his own party after winning almost 8.0 percent of the vote.
“I am certain that the use of force and detention of opposition politicians could have been avoided,” Prokhorov wrote on Twitter on Tuesday.