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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Tens of Thousands Protest Alleged Election Fraud, Putin's Rule in Moscow

VOA News December 24, 2011

Tens of thousands of Russians have rallied on a Moscow street to protest alleged fraud in a December 4 parliamentary election won by the ruling party of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Organizers say more than 100,000 people joined the rally on Sakharov Avenue in below-freezing temperatures Saturday, exceeding the size of a similar protest in Moscow two weeks ago. Russian police estimated the turnout today was about 28,000.

Many protesters wore white ribbons and held white balloons - symbols of a new movement of liberals, nationalists and other groups calling for free elections in Russia and an end to Mr. Putin's 12 years in power.

The activists contend the prime minister's United Russia party won a narrow majority in this month's parliamentary elections illegally, through vote fraud. They want to throw out the results and hold a new vote, and also say measures are needed to prevent more fraud in Russia's presidential election in March, when Mr. Putin hopes to return to the post he held from 2000 to 2008.

Several opposition figures addressed the opposition rally, including popular blogger Alexei Navalny, who led chants of "power to the people." He said the movement is peaceful, but that it has enough people to "take the Kremlin" if, as he put it, the ruling party's "crooks and thieves" keep cheating in elections.

United Russia denies the charges raised by Navalny and others.

Ahead of Saturday's rally, a human-rights panel that advises the Kremlin sided with protesters and said the December 4 elections were so tainted by fraud that they should be re-run. The group also called for the resignation of Russia's election commission chief.

The Moscow demonstrations and smaller anti-Putin rallies in other cities are the largest show of discontent in Russia since the 1990s. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has responded by promising reforms to allow more competition in elections beyond 2012. He is stepping down in March to make way for Mr. Putin's candidacy.

Mr. Putin has accused the United States of fomenting the anti-government demonstrations. He has derided the protesters, saying their white ribbons resemble condoms. Some participants in Saturday's rally in Moscow mocked the prime minister by holding portraits of him with a condom wrapped around his head and waving condoms blown up like balloons.

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