Vladimir Putin’s opponents clashed with police in central Moscow at a rally for fair elections, less than 24 hours before the prime minister returns to the Kremlin as president for a third term.
Dozens of opposition leaders including the Left Front’s Sergei Udaltsov, anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalny and former deputy premier Boris Nemtsov were detained during a rally at Bolotnaya Square, organizers said. Police said in a statement that 8,000 people attended, while estimates from organizers ranged from 20,000 to 100,000 -- more than the 5,000 they and city officials agreed to after the last major rally in February.
Putin, who has been premier or president since 1999, won a third term in March with 64 percent of the vote, three months after his United Russia party maintained its parliamentary majority in elections that were criticized as unfair by international observers.
At least four officers were injured in sporadic clashes, Moscow police said in an e-mailed statement. Officials urged those protesters remaining at Bolotnaya after 7 p.m. to go home. By 7:45 p.m. about 250 people had been detained in total, mainly on Bolotnaya.
A police statement accused organizers of provoking the crowd by calling on people to move outside the sanctioned rally area. Udaltsov urged the crowd to stage a “sit-in” strike at the nearby Udarnik cinema, where police were concentrated. Putin’s inauguration, scheduled for noon tomorrow, is “illegitimate,” Udaltsov said in calling for new elections. Criminal cases may be opened against the organizers of the event, according to the police statement.
Between 30,000 to 120,000 people thronged Sakharov Prospect, a wide avenue in Moscow named after Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov, to rally against election fraud after December’s parliamentary elections. At least 120,000 gathered in subzero temperatures for a march to Bolotnaya Square, an island south of the Kremlin, in February, according to opposition estimates. The city police put the number at 36,000 at the time.
A rival rally by the pro-Putin People’s Front, held at a different location in central Moscow to celebrate its one-year anniversary, drew 30,000 people and passed peacefully, according to police.
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