Russia's opposition has announced fresh demonstrations contesting an election won by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party. Hundreds of people have been detained after anti-government rallies in Moscow and St Petersburg.
Protesters could remain in jail for up to 15 days
Russia's anti-government opposition vowed on Wednesday to hold further demonstrations after hundreds were arrested overnight for holding unsanctioned protests. They were contesting a recent narrow election win by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's ruling party, United Russia.
A group "for honest elections" said on its Facebook page that a new demonstration would take place in central Moscow on Saturday afternoon. Despite a warning from police that anti-government protesters would be arrested, more than 5,000 people have already said on Facebook they would attend.
Another social networking group said protests would continue every day at 7 p.m. local time.
"When the authorities have stolen honest elections from the people, we can only defend our rights on the street," the group going by the name "Against the party of swindlers and thieves" said.
Hundreds remained in custody on Wednesday after thousands of protesters took to the streets of Moscow and St Petersburg for a second night. The protesters were emboldened by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's biggest election setback since he came to power 12 years ago.
Riot police arrested some 569 people on Tuesday night in an attempt to quash the protests. More than half remain in city jails, mainly on charges of illegally gathering in public.
A heavy security presence remains in Moscow and St Petersburg
The demonstrators in central Moscow chanted "Russia without Putin" and "We want free elections," but faced a counter-protest by young Kremlin supporters, shouting "The people! Putin!"
Election observers say Sunday's vote was slanted in favor of United Russia, even though the party saw a sharp drop in support.
The Kremlin has dismissed claims of election fraud, saying United Russia is the most popular political party in the country.
"Any provocations will be prevented in strict accordance with the law," the Moscow police said in a statement on its website."Those who try to stage any unsanctioned event understand perfectly well that they will be detained."
On Monday night, police said they made more than 300 arrests, after a group began moving toward government buildings in violation of police orders. Several thousand demonstrators took part in the protest action. Around 120 people were also detained at a protest in St. Petersburg.
Jail for ringleaders
On Tuesday, a Moscow court jailed two of the leaders of a large opposition protest for 15 days. The Interfax news agency reported that the court found Ilya Yashin, a senior member of the Solidarity opposition group, and Alexei Navalny, a blogger, guilty of disobeying police orders during Monday's demonstration.
Putin played down Sunday's election losses
Liberal opposition leader, Boris Nemtsov, was also reported to have been detained.
Also on Tuesday, a conference meant to bridge the gap between the West and Russia was overshadowed by the aftermath of elections.
At a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, German Foreign Secretary Guido Westerwelle said "we have taken note of the reports by OSCE election monitors in Russia with concern."
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated her criticism of the polls, calling them "neither free not fair."
Putin stressed his party had retained a "stable" majority in Sunday's elections, even though his party lost a significant number of seats.
Author: Charlotte Chelsom-Pill, Joanna Impey (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)
Editor: Nancy Isenson