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Moscow Police Arrest Hundreds Amid Protests After Putin Victory

Moscow police detained more than 200 people after thousands of protesters rallied in central Moscow the day after Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed victory in a presidential election that international observers criticized as unfair.

About 250 people were detained yesterday, along with opposition leader Alexei Navalny, activists Ilya Yashin and Sergei Udaltsov and the head of the banned National Bolshevik Party, Eduard Limonov, the Moscow City Police said in a statement.

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 held power in Russia for 12 years, including the last four as premier.

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

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

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

Vote Violations

A competing pro-Putin rally of 15,000 people took place near the Kremlin yesterday, 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 election “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.”

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 of the vote, refused to congratulate Putin or to recognize his election win.

Putin insists he obtained a fair victory.

“We won in an open and honest fight,” he told backers hours after polls closed. “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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