Former Russian president Mikhail Gorbachev has urged protesters to return to the streets of Moscow. His dramatic call follows claims that Vladimir Putin’s voting figures in last weekend’s presidential election were massively swollen by fraudulent means. A dissidents’ group – the League of Voters – alleged that Putin’s vote had been boosted from 53 to 64 per cent by falsified returns from polling stations and the ‘bussing in’ of voters. The League, which trained volunteers to monitor the election, admitted Putin would still have won the presidency, but said the official result was an ‘insult’ to Russians.
In the run-up to the presidential elections Vladimir Putin compared the campaign to Russia’s 1812 battle for Moscow against Napoleon, quoting from a classic poem to ask people to support him. But the 2012 battle for Moscow appears to have been lost by Putin’s team, with the Kremlin now sitting in a city where the majority of people voted against him in Sunday’s presidential vote. Official polling figures in Moscow said that Putin was supported by less than 47 percent of the 4.3 million people who voted in the Russian capital Sunday. A tally taken down by independent monitors in Moscow and sent in from polling stations to the observers group Golos — which alleged mass violations — gives an even lower figure of 45 percent for Putin.
Thousands of people have attended the biggest anti-government rally in the Russian capital Moscow since the fall of the Soviet Union. As many as 50,000 people gathered on an island near the Kremlin to condemn alleged ballot-rigging in parliamentary elections and demand a re-run. Other, smaller rallies took place in St Petersburg and other cities.Communists, nationalists and Western-leaning liberals turned out together despite divisions between them.
The protesters allege there was widespread fraud in Sundays polls though the ruling United Russia party did see its share of the vote fall sharply. Demonstrations in the immediate aftermath of the election saw more than 1,000 arrests, mostly in Moscow, and several key protest leaders such as the anti-corruption campaigner Alexei Navalny were jailed.
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has never experienced popular protests like these before, the BBCs Steve Rosenberg reports from Moscow. During his decade in power, first as president then prime minister, he has grown used to being seen as Russias most popular and powerful politician.But as one of the protesters put it to our correspondent, Russia is changing.
Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets in Moscow on Saturday shouting “Putin is a thief” and “Russia without Putin,” forcing the Kremlin to confront a level of public discontent that has not been seen here since Vladimir V. Putin first became president 12 years ago. The crowd overflowed from a central city square, forcing stragglers to climb trees or watch from the opposite riverbank. “We exist!” they chanted. “We exist!”
Opposition leaders understood that for a moment they, not the Kremlin, were dictating the political agenda, and seemed intent on leveraging it, promising to gather an even larger crowd again on Dec. 24.
Saturday’s rally served to build their confidence as it united liberals, nationalists and Communists. The event was too large to be edited out of the evening news, which does not ordinarily report on criticism of Mr. Putin. And it was accompanied by dozens of smaller rallies across Russia’s nine time zones, with a crowd of 3,000 reported in Tomsk, and 7,000 in St. Petersburg, the police said.
The protests certainly complicate Mr. Putin’s own campaign to return to the presidency. He is by far the country’s most popular political figure, but he no longer appears untouchable and will have to engage with his critics, something he has done only rarely and grudgingly.
President Joseph Kabila was declared the winner of elections in the Democratic Republic of the Congo on Friday, triggering violent protests and a rival claim to power by his main challenger. Kabila gained 49% of the vote against 32% for veteran opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi, the election commission announced.
But Tshisekedi, 78, immediately disputed the result and declared himself president. “I consider these results a real provocation of the Congolese people,” he said on RFI Radio. “As a consequence, I consider myself, from today, the elected president of the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Observers fear such statements could throw a match to the tinderbox of Kinshasa, where there were reports of unrest and gunfire soon after the results were announced. Police fired teargas to break up angry demonstrations, according to witnesses, and plumes of smoke smudged the skyline as tyres were burned outside counting centres. A huge security operation put opposition strongholds in the city under lockdown.
Thousands of protesters have gathered in Moscow in a show of anger over disputed parliamentary polls. The opposition says the protest – on an island just south of the Kremlin – could become the largest the country has seen in two decades. Smaller rallies have taken place in cities across the country.
Protesters allege there was widespread fraud in Sunday’s polls – though the ruling United Russia party saw its share of the vote fall sharply. Hundreds of people have been arrested during anti-Putin protests over the past week, mainly in Moscow and St Petersburg. At least 50,000 police and riot troops were deployed in Moscow ahead of Saturday’s protests.
Authorities have permitted up to 30,000 to attend the demonstration dubbed “For Fair Elections”. Thousands have turned out for rallies in cities across the Urals and Siberia and as far east as Vladivostok. The protesters have got one demand – for the elections to be held again. Nobody believes they were free and fair. Many are also asking that the head of the election commission stands down, and some are going even further and demanding that Vladimir Putin himself resigns.
There’s a real sense of anger – and although the numbers are not that big in global terms, in Moscow terms this is a very, very significant demonstration. This number simply haven’t come out onto the streets of Moscow since 1990s. It should not be underestimated what a significant moment this is. It may not deal a fatal blow to Mr Putin’s government, but it is certainly the most severe wake-up call he has received during 12 years in power.