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Saturday 10 December 2011

Russia braces for nationwide protests

Russia braces for nationwide protests
Moscow rally against "poll fraud" by ruling party set to attract 30,000 people, with protests in several other cities.
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2011 06:27
Rallies in at least 15 cities are expected as anger over claims of fraud by the ruling United Russia party grows [EPA]
Russia is bracing itself for the first nationwide protest against Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule amid signs of swelling anger over a poll won by his ruling United Russia party with the alleged help of widescale fraud.
Moscow authorities gave permission for 30,000 people to gather on a square across the river from the Kremlin at 10:00 GMT after detaining some 1,600 activists over the past few days who joined unsanctioned rallies against the December 4 vote.
The opposition is also organising rallies in at least 14 other major cities in a rare outpouring of mistrust in a system put in place by Putin when he first became president in 2000.
A 30,000-strong demonstration would be the largest to hit the Russian capital in 20 years, in what some see as the first warning bell for the former foreign agent and his secretive inner circle of security chiefs.
The authorities' decision to permit Saturday's rallies to go ahead nationwide is a first for the Putin era and suggests the Kremlin would prefer to avoid street battles between protesters and the riot police.
Putin's United Russia has been bruised by allegations of corruption, after opposition parties and international observers said the vote was marred by vote-rigging, including alleged ballot-box stuffing and false voter rolls.
Putin is running for president in March 2012 [AFP]
The official results of the elections to Russia's Duma showed that the ruling party United Russia lost 77 of its 315 seats, just retaining a small majority.
Neave Barker, Al Jazeera's correspondent in Moscow, said there is a widespread view, fuelled by mobile phone videos and accounts on internet social networking sites, that there was wholesale election fraud, and that Putin's party cheated its way to victory.
Putin accepted the vote's outcome but stayed silent about the protests for three days before accusing US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton of inciting  the unrest by questioning the polls.
He said Clinton's criticism "had set the tone for some people inside the country and given a signal".

US State Department spokesman Mark Toner retorted that "nothing could be further from the truth".
Putin has remained Russia's most popular and powerful politician as both president until 2008 and prime minister today - an image he has cultivated with tough talking against foreign powers and warm words for the Soviet past.

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