'Putin's a louse': 50,000 protest over election fraud in largest-ever public show of discontent in post-Soviet Russia

  • Police flood capital's streets, but allow peaceful protestors to vent anger
  • Largest rallies country has faced since fall of the USSR
  • Demonstrations took place in 70 cities across the country
  • President Vladimir Putin even faced calls to be jailed over 'rigged' vote
  • Crowds of Russians protest outside Houses of Parliament, in London

By Lee Moran and Will Stewart

Last updated at 1:28 AM on 11th December 2011


Tens of thousands of Russians yesterday called for strongman Vladimir Putin to resign during a historic day of protest over allegedly rigged elections.

Despite a vast security clampdown, riot police and army units allowed the peaceful crowds to vent their anger in the biggest rallies the country has seen since the fall of the USSR. 

As many as 50,000 massed at Moscow’s Bolotnaya Square near the Kremlin.

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Flaring up: Protest: As night falls, activists continue to voice their anger at the rally

Flaring up: Protest: As night falls, activists continue to voice their anger at the rally

Protest
Protest

United: Thousands of Russians are out on the streets protesting against Sunday's election results

Burning down: Russian nationalists burn a flag of the United Russia party during a Bolotnaya Square rally

Burning down: Russian nationalists burn a flag of the United Russia party during a Bolotnaya Square rally

It followed demonstrations in 70 cities across the country - many held in freezing snow, where campaigners screamed 'Putin's a louse' and demanded he quit - including Siberia and the Far East.

Last night, protesters issued an ultimatum to Prime Minister Putin to cancel ‘fraudulent’ parliamentary elections and stage a rerun – or face an even larger mass protest in two weeks.

 

The authorities deployed more than 50,000 police and soldiers for yesterday’s rallies but there was no repeat of the arrests at smaller spontaneous protests earlier last week.

Armoured vehicles blocked access to Red Square and government buildings around the Kremlin and tiny spy helicopters monitored the crowds. 

Authoritarian former KGB spy Putin – who plans to return to the Kremlin as president in March – now faces his most acute political crisis since coming to power.

Standing room only: An aerial view of the rally in Bolotnaya Square this afternoon

Standing room only: An aerial view of the rally in Bolotnaya Square this afternoon

Flaring up: Protesters walk amidst smoke from a flare in the city centre to attend a sanctioned rally in Bolotnaya Square

Flaring up: Protesters walk amidst smoke from a flare in the city centre to attend a sanctioned rally in Bolotnaya Square

Yesterday, he kept a low profile, monitoring the extraordinary scenes from his official residence near Moscow. Last night his spokesman said: ‘The government cannot yet formulate its attitude to the many thousands meeting  at Bolotnaya.’ 

There were even calls from the crowd for Putin to be jailed over the ‘rigged’ parliamentary poll, which  his United Russia party narrowly won last week, and the endemic corruption which is rampant at all levels throughout the country.

Independent observers suggest United Russia’s vote was inflated from about  25 per cent to 50 per cent of the total share, enough to give an overall majority.

Exact estimates on the size of yesterday’s protest varied but there was agreement it is the largest Putin has seen.

‘Maybe 100,000 people were at this rally,’ declared Mikhail Kasyanov, Putin’s first prime minister but now a bitter enemy. ‘Today is the beginning of the end for these thieving authorities.’

Anger: An elderly Russian holds up a poster of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin which reads No! as thousands packed into Moscow to protest against the elections

Anger: An elderly Russian holds up a poster of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin which reads No! as thousands packed into Moscow to protest against the elections

Anger at protest
Anger at protest

Voices heard: Protesters are congregating in Moscow's city centre to protest against the rigged election

Packed out: Bolotnaya Square is filled with tens of thousands of protesters all campaigning against the rigged elections

Packed out: Bolotnaya Square is filled with tens of thousands of protesters all campaigning against the rigged elections

Anti-Putin: Protesters hold a red banner reading 'Rot Front' during the rally against Sunday's election results

Anti-Putin: Protesters hold a red banner reading 'Rot Front' during the rally against Sunday's election results

Organised dissent: Russians walk into Moscow's city centre for the sanctioned rally in Bolotnaya Square

Organised dissent: Russians walk into Moscow's city centre for the sanctioned rally in Bolotnaya Square

Interior Ministry officers stand guard to prevent disorders during rallies to protest against violations at the parliamentary elections in central Moscow
One of the leaders of opposition bloc People's Freedom Party Boris Nemtsov (C) walks in the city centre to attend a sanctioned rally in Bolotnaya square

Calm before the storm? Interior Ministry officers stand guard as crowds flock into Moscow city centre (left) as People's Freedom Party leader Boris Nemtsov (right) also protests

Overthrow: Opposition protesters in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar took to the streets today

Overthrow: Opposition protesters in the southern Russian city of Krasnodar took to the streets today

Taking a stand: Protesters also congregated on the streets of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk

Taking a stand: Protesters also congregated on the streets of the Siberian city of Novosibirsk

And ex-deputy premier Boris Nemtsov, briefly jailed for taking part in an earlier protest, said: ‘The current regime does not know how to behave with dignity. All they know is cynicism.’

Leading Russian novelist Boris Akunin said: ‘I haven’t seen such things for 20 years, since 1991. There’s no way back from events such as these. Our city has changed.’ 

As the protests unfolded, the websites of Russia’s two major state-run channels ignored developments in an act of Soviet-style censorship.

In London, protesters chanted slogans and displayed banners outside the Houses of Parliament. And Moscow rally organiser, opposition politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, has announced there will be another protest on December 24, which he says will be twice as large.

The protests come three months before Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 and effectively remained the country's leader while prime minister, is to seek a third term in office.

The public outpouring challenges his image, supported by state-controlled TV channels, as a man who won the affection of most Russians.

That image was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats.

Ex-pat protest: Russians gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London to also rally against what they think was a fraudulent election process

Ex-pat protest: Russians gathered outside the Houses of Parliament in London to also rally against what they think was a fraudulent election process

But it lost the unassailable two-thirds majority it held in the previous parliament.  Even that reduced performance was unearned, inflated by massive vote fraud, the opposition says, citing reports by local and international monitors of widespread violations.

The reports of vote-rigging and the party's loss of seats acted as a catalyst for long-simmering discontent of many Russians.

'The falsifications that authorities are doing today have turned the country into a big theater, with clowns like in a circus,' said Alexander Trofimov, one of the early arrivals for the protest at Bolotnaya Square, on an island in the Moscow River adjacent to the Kremlin.

Opposition: Protesters took to the streets of Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok today to show their anger against the alleged rigged elections

Opposition: Protesters took to the streets of Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok today to show their anger against the alleged rigged elections

Protests in Vladivostok
Protests in Vladivostok

Anger: One of the first protests of the day took part in Vladivostok

Protests in Vladivostok

Claims: Crowds gathered in Vladivostok to protest against the ruling United Russia party

'I don't think any citizen of the country can say he is very happy with anything. We don't have an independent judiciary, there is no freedom of expression - all this combined creates a situation where people are forced to protest,' said demonstrator Albert Yusupov, who was dressed in civilian clothes but identified himself as a member of the Russian army.

By the time the rally started, the square and adjacent streets were packed shoulder-to-shoulder with protesters braving intermittent wind-blown snow.

City authorities have given permission for a rally of up to 30,000 people, unusual largesse for an opposition that generally is either denied permission to rally or limited to small numbers.

It was not clear if police would choose to crack down if the crowd clearly exceeded 30,000. But they did try to move demonstrators off a footbridge leading to the island, claiming it was so packed with people that it could collapse.

Protests took place in at least 15 other cities from the Pacific Coast to the southwest.

Day of action: A protester in Vladivostok holds a cut-out from Esquire magazine showing the the face of Russian blogger, political and social activist Alexei Navalny

Day of action: A protester in Vladivostok holds a cut-out from Esquire magazine showing the the face of Russian blogger, political and social activist Alexei Navalny

Vladimir Putin
Hillary Clinton

International criticism: The elections which saw Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin (left) voted back into power have been condemned by U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (right)

In the Pacific city of Vladivostok, several hundred protesters rallied along a waterside avenue where some of Russia's Pacific Fleet warships are docked. They shouted 'Putin's a louse' and some held a banner caricaturing United Russia's emblem, reading 'The rats must go'.

And in the eastern city of St Petersburg, observers said more than 10,000 took to the streets.

Police stayed on the fringes of that demonstration and made no arrests. But the Interfax news agency reported that about 15 people were arrested at a protest in the Siberian city of Perm and about 30 in the Far Eastern city of Khabarovsk when a flash-mob started an unauthorized protest.

Russia results

Officials in many cities, including Moscow, gave permission for the protests. But in what appeared to be an attempt to prevent young people from attending the protest, Moscow's school system declared Saturday afternoon a mandatory extra school day for grades 9-11. Students were told of the decision only on Friday, news reports said.

Hundreds of people, were arrested in smaller protests earlier in the week. Some, including prominent opposition blogger Alexei Navalny, were sentenced to 15 days in jail.

Another prominent opposition figure, Sergei Udaltsov, was hospitalized after his Monday arrest and was expected to be released Saturday, but the Interfax news agency said he was taken from the hospital to a court to face further charges.

President Dmitry Medvedev conceded this week that election law may have been violated and Putin suggested 'dialogue with the opposition-minded' - breaking from his usual authoritarian image.

The Kremlin has come under strong international pressure, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton calling the vote unfair and urging an investigation into fraud.

The opposition predicts at least 30,000 demonstrators will assemble for the Moscow protest. If today's protests are a success, the activists then face the challenge of long-term strategy.

Even though U.S. Sen. John McCain recently tweeted to Putin that 'the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you', things in Russia are not that simple.

The popular uprisings that brought down governments in Georgia in 2003, in Ukraine the next year and in Egypt last spring all were significantly boosted by demonstrators being able to establish round-the-clock presences, notably in Cairo's Tahrir Square and the massive tent camp on Kiev's main avenue.

Russian police would hardly tolerate anything similar. In Ukraine and Georgia, police were low-profile, staying on the edges of the protests and keeping their numbers small.

It is seen as a far cry from Russian police's usual crowd-controlling method of flooding any protest zone with hundreds of helmeted police who seem to relish violence.

Opposition figures indicated today that the next step would be to call another protest in Moscow for next weekend, with the aim of making it even bigger. But staged events at regular intervals may be less effective than daily spontaneous protests.

The opposition is also vulnerable to attacks on the websites and social media that have nourished the protests. This week, an official of Vkontakte, a Russian social networking site, reported pressure from the FSB, the KGB's main successor, to block access to opposition groups, but said his company refused.

On election day, the websites of a main independent radio station and the country's only independent election-monitoring group fell victim to denial-of-service hacker attacks.

Allegations: An election committee empties a ballot box after voting closed at a polling station last Sunday. There are now fears mass ballot-box stuffing took place

Allegations: An election committee empties a ballot box after voting closed at a polling station last Sunday. There are now fears mass ballot-box stuffing took place



 

Here's what other readers have said. Why not add your thoughts, or debate this issue live on our message boards.

The comments below have not been moderated.

now thats a country you dont want to get caught protesting,gulag for you comrade,eu commies on their way to matching this lot,if we let them cameron,strong vodka though,i think the poor sods need it standing out in the cold freezing their nuts off

Click to rate     Rating   4

"Eastern newspapers often publish unchecked and prejudiced information" - sorry, it's my mistake but I was going to write Western ones.

Click to rate     Rating   3

Slowly, but, surely, the organizers of these protest marches will begin to disappear. Never to be seen again. It's just a matter of time. Putin, will see to that. As Russia people have had a habit in the past 100 years of just disappear for no reason. So it's no big deal. Only family members look for them. Never to find them. Alive, at least. Communism, still reigns supreme in Russia. And will, as long as the old guard are still around. You can't change the spots on a Leopard.

Click to rate     Rating   7

"Protesters took to the streets of Russia's far eastern city of Vladivostok" - I am originally from Vladivostok and talked to my friends there today. There were 150 protestors all together and they could hardly "took street". Eastern newspapers often publish unchecked and prejudiced information and that is why Russians don't trust them and feel annoyed by constantly reading just negative information about their country. Looking at what all newspapers around the world write one can think that there is an ideal place anywhere but Russia. There are NO ideal countries and it would be much better for ALL politicians to concentrate on there own instead of demonizing selected one just to move attention of their citizens from inner problems. Let's not judge each other just by media! - Alla

Click to rate     Rating   3

Never trust a Russian politician...or any other kind! But Putin just want to the the little biddy kingy wingy forever! His wee-wee must be very teeny! LOL Rotten commies and socialist leaders.

Click to rate     Rating   3

Chris Fiji -- how are things there? Putin has lost popularity -fact, just did not show at the polls, funny that.

Click to rate     Rating   1

Bet the face-lift didn't help!

Click to rate     Rating   6

80% of the Russian people live on the poverty border line. No running water, intermittent electricity, no sewage systems, wood burning stoves for heating in -45 deg C winters and dirt roads. . - Trevor, Ammanford, Wales, 10/12/2011 21:02 Trevor! Where did you this GARBAGE from? My mother gets £140 p/m pension. She lives in a small town 200m north of Moscow in a very confortabe 2-bed appt with hot water, gas and electricity supply, uninterrupted 24 hrd/day 365 d/year. In winter, when the temperatures outside drop to max-32C, temperature inside her appartment is rarely below+23C. Her monthly utilities bill (inc telephone) is about £50. Much of her food comes from a farmer's market and is very cheap/fresh/local etc. Her healthcare is 100%free and she can be seen by a specialist consultant within 2-3 days. She recently had an operation. 3 days after seeing a consultant. Can you honestly tell me UK pensioners on state pension have the same standard of living? Oh, the roads are tarmac'ed

Click to rate     Rating   19

Well done everyone who came to protest and who cares about what happens to their country. Many people were afraid of violence but there was no violence in Moscow, and some protestors said "Moscow police for the first time behaved like police in a democratic country should." Russia is not Ukraine, and it was not "a revolution". It was a peaceful protest to send the message to the government that people are disillusioned and disappointed.

Click to rate     Rating   20

Well done everyone who came to protest and who cares about what happens to their country. Many people were afraid of violence but there was no violence in Moscow, and some protestors said "Moscow police for the first time behaved like police in a democratic country should." Russia is not Ukraine, and it was not "a revolution". It was a peaceful protest to send the message to the government that people are disillusioned and disappointed.

Click to rate     Rating   13

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