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February 17, 2012

Thousands Turn Out for Pro-Putin Rallies

Thousands of people across Russia rallied Saturday behind Prime Minister Valdimir Putin in his bid to become president.

The largest of the rallies took place in St. Petersburg, where police said as many as 60,000 demonstrators turned out to show support for Mr. Putin.

One Putin supporter, Valentina Taran, denied people were being forced to attend.  The municipal council deputy said, "We support Putin and his programme and we are going to vote for Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. We learnt about this rally from TV."

Several protesters tried to use the rally to voice their displeasure with Mr. Putin and his polices.  The Associated Press reported two anti-Putin protesters were detained by police.

Thousands also attended pro-Putin rallies in Nizhny Novgorod, Stavropol, Vladivostok and Volgograd.

Mr. Putin became prime minister after serving as president from 2000 to 2008.  This past September, he announced he planned to run for president again in the March 4 election, swapping places with current President Dmitry Medvedev.

Polls show Mr. Putin as the likely winner when Russians finally vote next month, but his candidacy has sparked some of the biggest demonstrations since the fall of the old Soviet Union.

Earlier this month, Russian media reported about 35,000 people took part in a major anti-Putin rally in Moscow, though opposition leaders said the number was much higher.

Mr. Putin faces four challengers: Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, A Just Russia's Sergei Mironov, Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and billionaire and New Jersey Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.