Thousands gather in Moscow to protest Putin election victory | News | DW | 10.03.2012
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Thousands gather in Moscow to protest Putin election victory

Anti-Kremlin activists gathered in Moscow on Saturday to protest presidential election results they regard as fraudulent. The rally comes after hundreds of demonstrators were arrested on Monday.

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Moscow on Saturday, challenging Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's victory in the March 4 presidential election as illegitimate.

Moscow city authorities had approved a demonstration of up to 50,000 people. The news agency AFP reported that around 10,000 people had gathered in the city center while police put the number at around 3,000. Demonstrators carried white balloons and wore white ribbons, symbols of the anti-Putin movement that began after disputed parliamentary elections in December 2011.

"These authorities are illegitimate," Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader and protest organizer, told the crowd of protesters.

"The same people are in power," Ryzhkov said. "The same people who took away our right to choose, the same people who destroyed freedom of speech and political competition."

Test of strength

Prime Minister Putin won last week's presidential election with 63.6 percent of the vote, but international election monitors say the poll was skewed in his favor. On Monday, police arrested some 250 protesters following the election results.

Saturday's rally was seen as a test of the opposition's ability to challenge Putin's power after his decisive victory at the polls and subsequent crackdown on protests. Around 2,500 security forces were deployed on Saturday, with the demonstration area near the Kremlin fenced off.

Putin previously served two terms as president from 2000-2008, stepping down due to term limits and allowing his protege, Dmitry Medvedev, to assume the office. Medvedev is now expected to become prime minister as Putin begins his third presidential term.

"If this system took 15 or so years to be created, we need a few years - three, four, five - to dismantle it," said liberal opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who was barred from running in the presidential election. "Of course we will need it. That's why we need these demonstrations."

slk/sb (Reuters, AFP, dpa)