Hundreds taken away as Russians protest at ‘rigged’ result

Several thousand Russians last night protested in Moscow against prime minister Vladimir Putin and his party, which won the largest share of votes in a 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 vote has energised the opposition and poses a humbling challenge to the country’s dominant figure in his drive to return to the presidency.

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Mr Putin appeared subdued and glum even as he insisted at a cabinet meeting yesterday that the result “gives United Russia the possibility to work calmly and smoothly”.

Although the sharp decline for United Russia could lead Mr Putin and the party to try to portray the election as genuinely democratic, the wide reports of violations have undermined that attempt at spin.

Boris Nemtsov, a prominent figure among Russia’s beleaguered liberal opposition, declared that the vote spelled the end of Mr Putin’s “honeymoon” with the nation and predicted that his rule will soon “collapse like a house of cards”.

“He needs to hold an honest presidential election and allow opposition candidates to register for the race, if he doesn’t want to be booed from Kamchatka to Kaliningrad,” Mr Nemtsov said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Many Russians have come to despise United Russia, seeing it as the engine of corruption. The election showed voters that they have power despite what election monitors called a dishonest count.

“Yesterday, it was proven by these voters that not everything was fixed, that the result really matters,” said Tiny Kox of the Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly, part of an international election observer mission.