11 Mar 2012

Thousands attend anti-Putin protest in Moscow

6:47 am on 11 March 2012

Thousands of Russians have taken to the streets to protest against Vladimir Putin's presidential election victory, but their numbers were far fewer than in previous weeks.

Organisers put the crowd in Moscow at 25,000, about a quarter of the size of the last protest before the poll on 4 March gave Mr Putin a third term as president. Police estimated the crowd at 10,000.

Even though international vote monitors say the election was skewed in his favour, opposition leaders have been forced by the margin of victory to acknowledge that Mr Putin was the winner, Reuters reports.

He won almost 64% of votes, with runner-up Gennady Zyuganov from the Communist Party on less than 18%.

The opposition is struggling to find a way to maintain pressure on Putin and mount a sustained challenge to the man they say has stunted Russia's political and economic development after 12 years rule as president or prime minister.

Putin, 59, has made clear he will allow protests agreed ahead of time with city authorities but will crack down against rallies that are not sanctioned.

In St Petersburg, Russia's second city, police hauled away about 30 to 40 people when more than 200 staged an unsanctioned, mostly silent protest without banners, witnesses said. Police said 280 were detained in the city on Monday.

Police used batons to break up an unsanctioned protest in Russia's third biggest city, Nizhny Novgorod, and detained about 50 people, Interfax news agency reported.