MOSCOW, Russia (BNO NEWS) — More than 550 people were arrested on Monday when tens of thousands of people participated in unauthorized protests in the Russian cities of Moscow and St. Petersburg to denounce Vladimir Putin’s re-election as president, officials said on early Tuesday.
Thousands of people gathered at Pushkinskaya Square in Moscow to demand free elections after Putin won 63.60 percent during Sunday’s presidential election, which international observers have said were ‘clearly skewed’ in favor of the prime minister. Putin was followed by Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and self-nominee businessman Mikhail Prokhorov who won 17.18 and 7.86 percent respectively.
Police officials said approximately 14,000 people took part in the opposition rally in Moscow, but organizers said the actual figure was between 20,000 and 40,000. With 12,000 police officers present, the situation at the square was described as calm and there were no reports of significant incidents.
But although the main opposition rally had been authorized by city authorities, up to 1,000 people refused to leave the square when the authorized demonstration ended. Some protesters started a sit-in and pledged to stay until their demands for fair elections were met, resulting in about 250 people being arrested.
Among those arrested in Moscow was blogger and political activist Alexei Navalny. “Hello from the police van,” the activist wrote on his Twitter profile. He later tweeted a photo from inside the police van, showing at least nine other protesters who had also been detained during the rally.
“The Moscow police forces responded to the violations promptly and in full accordance with the powers defined by law, and took measures to avoid negative developments and the aggravation of the situation,” a spokesperson for Moscow police told the ITAR-TASS news agency. It said all the detainees were taken to city police stations for formal registration.
In St. Petersburg, more than 300 people were arrested at St. Isaac’s Square when a group of approximately 800 people participated in an unauthorized protest against Sunday’s election result. Among those arrested were several men who threw Molotov cocktails at police vehicles, Russian media reports said.
Earlier on Monday, election monitors from the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) concluded that voting procedures were generally followed during Sunday’s presidential election. But there was evidence of fraud and observers said campaign conditions were ‘clearly skewed’ in favor of Putin.
“The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia,” said Tonino Picula of the OSCE, commenting on Monday’s report. “There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt.”
Opposition leaders have rejected the results of the election.