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September 09, 2013

Navalny's Supporters Rally Following Election Defeat

Thousands of cheering supporters have answered a call by Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny to rally in protest of a Moscow election he said was rigged to hand victory to an ally of President Vladimir Putin.

The anti-corruption blogger has denounced the results of Sunday's election, saying the vote count had many serious violations. At the rally Monday, Navalny demanded that a runoff be held between him and Kremlin-backed rival Sergei Sobyanin.

Navalny said Monday there was "clear falsification" of votes and Sobyanin's majority was "guaranteed only by fraud." In a statement posted to his blog, the opposition leader said he and his team do not acknowledge the published results and have called for talks with Sobyanin's team.

​​Results released Monday show incumbent Sobyanin winning a little more than 51 percent of the vote to Navalny's 27 percent. Four other candidates were far behind. Sobyanin needed more than half the votes to avoid a runoff.

Kremlin-backed Sobyanin was widely expected to win.

Sobyanin, who once served as chief of staff to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was appointed mayor three years ago.

Navalny campaigned under the burden of a five-year prison sentence. The 37-year-old opposition leader, who has exposed alleged government corruption, says the charges against him are politically motivated and intended to silence him.

Navalny received his sentence in July, leaving the courtroom in handcuffs. A day later he was suddenly released, pending appeal.

Navalny, who was blocked from state-run television, conducted a Western-style campaign, mobilizing the support of thousands of volunteers.

By contrast, Sobyanin was all but invisible throughout the campaign. Instead, he focused on sprucing up the city of Moscow. Analysts say his campaign strategy was designed to remind voters of his access to the Kremlin and its money.