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Moscow demo ends in arrests

March 5, 2012

A major protest in Moscow against President Vladimir Putin's election victory has closed with arrests. World leaders, meanwhile, have "taken note" of Putin's landslide win, asking that he investigate irregularities.

Russian police officers detain demonstrators attempting to hold an unsanctioned protest in Moscow, Monday, March 5, 2012.
Image: AP

Dozens of opposition figures were arrested at a post-election rally on Monday when they refused to leave Moscow's Pushkin Square.

Some 20,000 people turned up for the pre-arranged demonstration, most of which was conducted peacefully while riot police looked on. Some protesters, however, refused to leave the square at the end of the pre-approved demonstration, saying they intended to stay until reelected President Vladimir Putin left. The police officers then swiftly moved in.

A screenshot of Navalny's photo showing demonstrators in a Russian police van in Moscow
"Hello everyone from the police van," Navalny wroteImage: Screenshot instagr.am

Anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny was among the opposition figures detained, he wrote "Hello everyone from the police van" to his followers on the micro-blogging site Twitter, posting a picture of the inside of the police vehicle on the Internet. A smaller demonstration in St Petersburg, with about 3,000 people thought to be in attendance, was also marked by some arrests.

West responds

World leaders contacted returning Russian President Vladimir Putin on Monday after his election victory, expressing hopes of improved relations but, for the most part, stopping short of welcoming or congratulating the president.

The EU and the United States both urged Putin's government to launch an independent probe into allegations from election observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) of a skewed campaign landscape favoring Putin and voting irregularities.

Presidential poll divides Russia

"The EU takes note of the preliminary results of the presidential elections and the clear victory of Vladimir Putin," the EU's top diplomat Catherine Ashton said in a statement on Monday. "The EU looks forward to working with the incoming Russian president and the new government in full support of our shared modernization agenda, which we see as covering both economic and political reforms."

Ashton's spokeswoman alluded to the OSCE's observation of "certain shortcomings both in the preparations and the conduct of these elections," urging Russia to address them. The US State Department issued a similar request in a statement.

OSCE irregularities

Election observers from the OSCE reported some instances of ballot stuffing and "carousel voting," where people vote at several different polling stations, but also said there was less evidence of such abuse than in December's parliamentary elections.

First and foremost, the organization bemoaned the one-sided nature of Russia's political landscape, saying the size and scope of government influence meant the result was never in doubt.

"The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia," Tonino Picula from the OSCE told reporters in Moscow.

According to official election results, Putin won roughly 64 percent of the vote, easily enough to avoid a runoff second round poll. His closest rival, Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, won 17 percent of public support.

'Wrong side of history'

The foreign ministers of Germany and France both used Putin's reelection to request that the Kremlin reconsider its policy towards Syria. Moscow and Damascus are traditional rivals and Russia has stood by the regime of President Bashar al-Assad amid its deadly battle with anti-government activists. Russia, along with China, has voted against two UN Security Council resolutions that would have condemned Assad and his security forces' behavior.

"I hope that after this election Russia will again consider its position on Syria, and that Russia will clearly see that it is standing on the wrong side of history," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said in Berlin. Chancellor Angela Merkel's spokesman later said that Merkel had called Putin after his election win, with the pair discussing Syria among other issues.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday announced that he would meet with Arab League representatives on Saturday, saying he was hopeful of laying some "very interesting groundwork" that might work on a broader, international scale.

msh/sjt (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)