A new wave of protests against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's return as President has swept across Russia, challenging his claim that last Sunday's presidential election had “consolidated” Russian society.
Hundreds were detained in Moscow and St. Petersburg as riot police clashed with demonstrators protesting what they believe was a fraudulent election.
Mr. Putin won the election with over 63 per cent of the votes, but international monitors said the vote was “skewed” in his favour and Russian election watchdogs complained of numerous falsifications. Evidence of vote rigging sparked massive protests after parliamentary elections in December. Until now, however, the demonstrations were peaceful.
A protest rally in Moscow's Pushkin Square on Monday evening drew up to 20,000 people who chanted “Russia without Putin” and “Putin is a thief”.
The two-hour rally, allowed by authorities, proceeded peacefully, but after the main crowd dispersed several hundred activists stayed behind vowing to mount a permanent protest. Riot police moved in, kicking and dragging them off. At least one girl had her arm broken by police and 250 demonstrators were detained.
In St. Petersburg, about 3,000 people gathered for an unauthorised protest in front of the city legislature. Police broke up the rally arresting 300 demonstrators.
Shortly before police clashed with protesters, Mr. Putin met his defeated rivals, seeking cooperation.
“The main result of the election campaign is that it helped consolidate our society,” said Mr. Putin.
Protests rallies took place in several cities, including Novosibirsk, Yekaterinburg, Tyumen, Krasnodar, Rostov-on-Don and Nizhny Novgorod.
In Moscow the opposition plans to organise a protest march on March 10.