News / Europe

Russia Detains Putin Critics; Clinton Denounces Electoral Fraud

A protester tries to become free as police officers detain opposition activists during a protest against vote rigging in St.Petersburg, Russia, December 5, 2011.
A protester tries to become free as police officers detain opposition activists during a protest against vote rigging in St.Petersburg, Russia, December 5, 2011.

Russian authorities continue to hold at least 250 opposition protesters one day after an unprecedented rally against alleged electoral fraud, as the top U.S. diplomat again criticized Moscow for parliamentary polls she said were neither free nor fair.

Protest organizers say most of the demonstrators arrested in the capital, Moscow, remain in custody. They include Ilya Yashin, a top member of the opposition, who a Moscow court Tuesday sentenced to 15 days in jail for disobeying police orders during Monday's demonstration.  

Up to 120 people were also detained Tuesday at a similar rally in the northern city of St. Petersburg.

Photo Gallery: Russian Protests

The French news agency, AFP, quoted a security official as saying Russia has deployed Interior Ministry troops in Moscow to ensure order during several planned rallies in the capital Tuesday.

For a second straight day, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton cited "serious concerns" about Sunday's polls in which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's legislative majority was slashed in a vote marred by accusations of ballot-box stuffing and other irregularities.

Speaking to the election-monitoring Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Clinton said Russian voters deserve a "full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation."

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has insisted the elections were "fair, honest and democratic."

Russian police late Monday moved against several thousand demonstrators gathered under pouring rain to denounce the election, chanting "Russia without Putin." The arrests took place as protesters sought to march toward the Kremlin.  It was one of the biggest rallies in the Russian capital in years.

Earlier, OSCE election monitors reported numerous violations of election rules favoring Putin's United Russia party. The group says frequent procedural violations included problems with the vote-counting, ballot-box stuffing and a lack of transparency.

United Russia, which has dominated Russian politics for more than a decade, took about 50 percent of the vote and now holds a slim majority in the State Duma, or the lower house.

The Communists, along with the nationalist Liberal Democrats and Just Russia, a social democratic party, all made strong gains, meaning that United Russia will be forced to work with the newly empowered opposition.

In the 2007 election, the ruling party won 64 percent of the vote, enough for a supermajority that enabled it to amend the constitution without opposition support.

Russian analysts in recent weeks had predicted a sharp decline in United Russia's popularity, with voters voicing discontent about the growing income gap between rich and poor and allegations of official corruption. There has also been displeasure over plans by Putin to reclaim the presidency in March after being forced to assume the post of prime minister in 2008 due to term limits.

If he regains the presidency, Putin, 59, could serve two more six-year terms and remain in power until 2024. He was first elected president in 2000.

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

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