Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin faced more mass protests today over alleged election fraud as former Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin warned of a “revolution” unless the government assuages popular anger.
At least 30,000 people thronged Sakharov Prospect, a wide avenue in Moscow named after Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov, police said. The event organizers said up to 120,000 people attended the rally.
Kudrin, who resigned in September after a clash with President Dmitry Medvedev over military spending, backed opposition calls for the resignation of the country’s senior election official and their demand for a repeat of the disputed Dec. 4 parliamentary poll.
Putin, 59, who is seeking to return to the Kremlin in March presidential elections, confronted the biggest demonstrations of his 12 years in power on Dec. 10, when tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Moscow and other cities.
The government must hold the March 4 elections under more democratic rules and new parliamentary elections, “otherwise it’s revolution, otherwise we will lose this chance which we have today -- a peaceful transformation, and the trust which the new elected government must receive,” Kudrin told the protesters from a stage.
Medvedev, 46, who agreed in September to step down to allow Putin’s comeback, announced measures to loosen political controls in his state-of-the-nation speech on Dec. 22, promising to make it easier to register parties and run for president. The changes wouldn’t take full effect until the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2016 and 2018.
The protesters, who braved below-freezing temperatures and snow, wore white ribbons that have become a symbol of the anti-Putin movement. Some held up signs saying, “For Russia without Putin.”
Rallies also took place today in other Russian cities including St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg in the Urals and Novosibirsk and Krasnoyarsk in Siberia.
Billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who is challenging Putin in the 2012 presidential vote in what many commentators describe as a ploy to give the election more legitimacy, was at today’s event in Moscow. Prokhorov says he’s a genuine candidate.
The businessman said today he would order repeat parliamentary elections under the new rules announced by Medvedev if elected president. Kudrin, whom Prokhorov has suggested he may appoint as prime minister, said Russia should hold a new parliamentary vote within a year.
Medvedev’s human rights council today also recommended that Vladimir Churov, chairman of Central Election Commission, resign over violations reported during the parliamentary elections.
The recommendation isn’t legally binding, Yelena Dubrovina, a member of the Central Election Commission, was cited as saying on state-run Rossiya 24 television.
Natalya Timakova, Medvedev’s spokeswoman, declined comment on the calls by Kudrin and Prokhorov for new parliamentary elections when contacted by Bloomberg News.
Putin last week insisted that the results of the parliamentary vote were fair and accused protesters of being funded by foreign powers.
The ruling United Russia party won just over half of seats in the Dec. 4 vote, losing the two-thirds majority that allowed it to alter the constitution unilaterally. International observers said the elections were marred by ballot-stuffing.
“I came here as I am for honest elections,” said 20-year-old economy student Kristina Menyazeva at the Moscow rally today. “I think I was deceived and I’m fed up. I think we should carry on with our demands and we must make sure that there are honest elections on March 4.”