Police break up anti-Putin protests
Riot police have broken up an opposition protest contesting Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election, arresting dozens of participants including prominent opposition leaders.
The police action followed a rally in Moscow city centre that drew about 20,000 protesters angry over a campaign slanted in Mr Putin's favour and reports of widespread violations in Sunday's ballot.
The big rally went off peacefully but hundreds of police in full riot gear violently dispersed several hundred protesters who had vowed to stay on the iconic Pushkin Square until Mr Putin steps down.
Police moved quickly to end the protests, apparently fearing that it could act as a catalyst for bigger opposition action.
Protest leader Alexei Navalny, who sought to electrify the crowd with a passionate call of "We are the power!" was among those arrested along with opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov. Scores were put in police vans parked around the square.
Mr Putin won more than 63% of the vote, according to the nearly complete official returns, but the opposition says the election was marred by massive fraud.
"The campaign has been unfair, cowardly and treacherous," said opposition leader Grigory Yavlinsky, who had been denied registration for the race on a technicality.
International election monitors pointed at the lack of real competition and said the vote count "was assessed negatively" in almost a third of polling stations observers visited.
"There was no real competition, and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt," said Tonino Picula, the head of the short-term Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe observer mission.
"Broadcast media was clearly biased in favour of one candidate and did not provide fair coverage of the other candidates."