Thousands of people in Moscow rallied for and against Vladimir Putin in separate rallies Monday after official election results showed the Russian prime minister handily winning back the presidency. International observers blasted the Sunday election, saying the outcome was never in doubt. Some foreign governments pledged to work with the new leader despite concerns about electoral violations. “The election has not been exemplary, to say the least,” said French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe. With more than 99% of the votes counted, Putin received 63.75% of the vote, easily avoiding a runoff in a field of five candidates.
Putin’s closest challenger, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, got slightly more than 17%, and the other three candidates — including Mikhail Prokhorov, the owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team — were in the single digits. The result was still considered preliminary, however; the state-run RIA Novosti news agency reported final results may come next week.
Putin, 59, declared victory before thousands of cheering supporters near Red Square on Sunday night, and a similar crowd returned Monday to celebrate his victory, RIA Novosti reported. The news agency said about 10,000 people were at Manezhnaya Square, where sports figures and celebrities congratulated Putin and denounced the opposition’s claims that the voting was unfair and rigged. Other pro-Putin rallies took place around the country, RIA Novosti said. Thousands of Putin opponents also turned out in central Moscow on Monday, and police arrested 250 people. Among them were opposition activists Ilya Yashin, Alexei Navalny and Sergey Udaltsov, the Moscow branch of the Russian Interior Ministry reported.