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Putin Opponents Protest Kremlin Victory Amid Fraud Claims

Putin Denounces Rivals Who Claim Fraud Won Him Presidency
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, center, greets supporters at his election headquarters in Krasnoyarsk, Russia, on March 5, 2012. Photographer: Alexander Zemlianichenko/AP

Thousands of protesters rallied in central Moscow’s Pushkin Square the day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed victory in a presidential election that international observers said was unfair.

More than 200 people were detained, some at unsanctioned rallies in other parts of Moscow, Interfax reported, citing an unidentified police official. Opposition leader Alexei Navalny was held along with activists Ilya Yashin and Sergei Udaltsov, it said. The Moscow police press office couldn’t immediately confirm the number or identity of those arrested.

“Putin threw down a challenge to us all,” Sergei Mitrokhin, leader of the pro-democracy Yabloko party, told the Pushkin Square gathering, estimated by organizers at 20,000 people. “From this moment on, the real battle starts.”

The opposition is seeking to maintain pressure on Putin after the Russian leader won another six years in the Kremlin with about 64 percent of yesterday’s presidential vote, according to the official tally. Putin, 59, has been in power for 12 years, including the last four as premier.

Crowd numbers were lower today than during protests over alleged fraud in December parliamentary elections that marked the biggest unrest during Putin’s rule. Navalny called for new tactics, such as a campaign of civil disobedience and sit-ins.

‘Difficult Third Term’

“Putin is facing a difficult third term,” Lilit Gevorgyan, Russia analyst at IHS Global Insight in London, said today by e-mail. “Here the opposition and the Russian public have an important role to play.”

A competing pro-Putin rally of 15,000 people took place near the Kremlin today, a day after more than 100,000 people attended the premier’s victory celebration there, state television said.

Observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe identified violations including ballot-stuffing at one-third of the polling stations monitored by the democracy watchdog.

The ballot “didn’t meet important democratic standards,” Tonino Picula from the OSCE’s parliamentary assembly told reporters in Moscow. “The point of an election is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia.”

Independent Investigation

The U.S. State Department said it’s looking forward to working with Putin after the election results are certified and he’s sworn in. It also endorsed the OSCE’s preliminary report.

“We urge the Russian government to conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations,” spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in an e-mailed statement.

Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, who came in second place with about 17 percent, refused to congratulate Putin or recognize his election victory.

Putin last night insisted he obtained a fair victory. “We won in an open and honest fight,” he told backers hours after polls closed last night. “We showed that our people can easily distinguish between a desire for novelty and renewal from political provocations which have only one goal: to destroy Russian statehood and usurp power.”

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