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Thousands protest over Putin party

Several thousand people have protested in Moscow against prime minister Vladimir Putin and his party, which won the largest share of a Russian parliamentary election that observers said was rigged.

It was perhaps the largest opposition rally in years and ended with police detaining some of the activists.

A group of several hundred marched toward the Central Elections Commission near the Kremlin, but were stopped by riot police and taken away in buses. The number of those detained was not immediately available.

Estimates of the number of protesters at the rally ranged from 5,000 to 10,000. They chanted "Russia without Putin" and accused his United Russia party of stealing votes.

United Russia took about 50% of Sunday's vote, a result that opposition politicians and election monitors said was inflated because of ballot stuffing and other vote fraud. It was a significant drop from the last election, when the party took 64%.

The loss of seats in parliament appears to mean little as two of the three other parties winning seats have been reliable supporters of government legislation, but it is a substantial symbolic blow to a party that had become virtually indistinguishable from the state itself.

The result came three months before Russia votes for a new president. Mr Putin, who became prime minister in 2008 because of presidential term limits, will run for a third term in March and some opposition leaders saw the parliamentary election as a game-changer for what had been presumed to be Mr Putin's easy stroll back to the Kremlin.

More than 400 Communist supporters also gathered to express their indignation over the election, which some called the dirtiest in modern Russian history.

The Communist Party finished second with about 20% of the vote.

"Even compared to the 2007 elections, violations by the authorities and the government bodies that actually control the work of all election organisations at all levels, from local to central, were so obvious and so brazen," said Yevgeny Dorovin, a member of the party's central committee.


From Belfast Telegraph