New Russian protest yields smaller turnout

Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have both dismissed allegations of mass violations.

Updated: Dec 17, 2011, 21:58 PM IST

Moscow: Some 3,000 protesters on Saturday gathered
in Moscow`s Bolotnaya square for a rally against election
violations as Russia`s Communist party nominated its leader to
challenge Vladimir Putin in March presidential polls.

The rally, organised by the liberal Yabloko party, which
failed to gain seats in the next parliament, was the fourth in
a series of protests against what is perceived as a rigged
election on December 4.

The rally was nowhere near as big as one a week earlier
which drew over 50,000 people to the same square in the
largest protest demonstration in Moscow since the early 1990s.
About 3,000 people gathered at the square, according to
a news agency correspondent, while Moscow police estimated the
turnout at 1,500.

Yabloko finished in the elections with only 3.43 per
cent, falling short of the threshold required to win seats in
the Russian Duma. Putin`s party United Russia won the polls
with 49.3 per cent, losing its constitutional majority.

People with Yabloko flags and green balloons held signs
such as one reading "Boycott the Pseudo-Elections" and
listened to Yabloko founder Grigory Yavlinsky, who is widely
expected to become the party`s presidential candidate.

"Our goal is to change today`s political system, which
lies, which is corrupt, and serves the interests of a small
group of people," Yavlinsky said.

"People`s attitude has changed, they are ready to
protest, no matter who wins the elections, one should not take
people for idiots," said protester Igor Sevolodovich,
referring to massive fraud.

The rally was held against a two-day Communist party
congress in Moscow, which officially nominated its 67-year-old
leader Gennady Zyuganov to run against Putin in the March
elections.

The Communist party, a runner-up in the parliamentary
polls with 19.19 per cent of the vote, has called the vote
illegitimate, and Zyuganov promised Saturday to call a new
election if he becomes president.

However Zyuganov, who has been at the helm of Russia`s
communists since the early 1990s, has stayed away from most
protest rallies, labelling some of the liberal opposition as
provocateurs in the pay of "American oligarchs."

Zyuganov, who has run for the Russian presidency three
times since 1996, is likely to be the main challenger to Putin
in the March elections, and Putin`s latest approval rating of
42 per cent suggests that he may not clinch victory in the
first round.

Prime Minister Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have
both dismissed allegations of mass violations.

PTI