10 Dec 2011

Tens of thousands in Russian poll protests

Mass protests across Russia, demanding a re-run of parliamentary elections and an end to Prime Minister Putin’s rule, prompt the question: are we witnessing a Slavic Spring in the dead of winter?

Mr Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, Russia’s president, said people could protest – but only within the bounds of permission granted by local authorities.

The Moscow protest, initially planned for Revolution Square not far from the Kremlin, began in Bolotnaya Square. City authorities said on Friday they had granted permission for 30,000 people to gather there.

There had been fears that police could use site, on an island to the south of the Kremlin, to cut off protesters.

A day of demonstrations had begun in the far east, in Vladivostok, where an estimated 1,000 people gathered to protest.

Police looked on as protesters called for last week’s election results to be annulled and for detained activists to be released.

In Khabarovsk, a city not far from Russia’s border with China, 20 people were arrested, according to one news agency.

Facebook protest

For the majority of those involved, it was their first demonstration. Most were from Russia’s middle classes – educated and employed, brought together through a Facebook page set up by a Moscow-based journalist.

In a speech to protesters in the capital, former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov, who now leads an opposition movement, said: “Today 60,000, maybe 100,000, people were at this rally. This means today is the beginning of the end for these thieving authorities.”

Moscow saw demonstrations on two consecutive days earlier this week in the wake of last weekend’s elections.

On Monday an estimated 5,000 people gathered in the capital to expressed their opposition to alleged vote-rigging and demand an end to Mr Putin’s rule.

On Tuesday around 100 people were detained by police after scuffles broke out in the centre of Moscow.

Vladimir Putin’s United Russia part secured just under 50 per cent of votes for the state Duma on 4 December – down from more than 64 per cent in the 2007 elections. A resurgent Communist Party won 19.2 per cent of votes, while the Just Russia party – founded only five years ago – managed a 13.25 per cent share.