Moscow police clash with anti-Putin demonstrators

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MOSCOW (AP) — Police clashed on Tuesday on a central Moscow square with demonstrators trying to hold a second day of protests against alleged vote fraud in Russia’s parliamentary elections.

Hundreds of police on Tuesday evening blocked off Triumphal Square and then began chasing about 100 demonstrators, seizing some and throwing them harshly into police vehicles.

Pro-government United Russia supporters also rallied late Tuesday at Revolution Square near the Kremlin. State television footage showed a crowd appearing to number in the thousands.

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party saw a significant drop in support in Sunday’s election, but it will still have a majority in parliament. Opponents say even that watered-down victory was due to massive vote fraud.

In neighboring Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton again criticized the Russian election and urged that widespread reports of voting fraud be investigated.

Russian Communist Party supporters hold flags with the party colors and emblem during a demonstration in Moscow on Monday, Dec. 5, 2011, to protest the official results of parliamentary elections. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

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Russian Communist Party supporters hold flags with the party colors and emblem ... more >

Some Moscow demonstrators Tuesday shouted, “Putin is a crook and a thief!” referring both to the alleged election fraud and to widespread complaints that United Russia is one of the prime reasons for Russia’s endemic corruption.

Among the detained was Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal opposition, along with prominent radical Eduard Limonov and Oleg Orlov, head of the renowned human rights group Memorial, the Interfax news agency reported.

Hundreds of young men with emblems of United Russia’s youth wing, the Young Guards, also gathered on the outskirts of the square and tauntingly chanted, “Putin victory!”

Large crowds also gathered on a square in St. Petersburg, visibly outnumbering police, a Danish election observer reported.

United Russia won slightly less than 50 percent of Sunday’s vote, according to nearly complete preliminary results. Although that gives the party an absolute majority in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, it is a significant drop from the 2007 election, when the party got a two-thirds majority, enough to change the constitution unchallenged.

Even that smaller majority is seen as questionable in the wake of numerous reports of voting fraud to inflate United Russia’s total. Russian officials, however, have denied any significant vote violations.

Yet Sunday’s election results reflected public fatigue with Mr. Putin’s authoritarian streak and with official corruption in Russia, signaling that his return to the presidency in next March’s election may not be as trouble-free as he expected.

Mr. Putin, meanwhile, called his party’s reduced number of seats in Sunday’s parliamentary election an “inevitable” result of voters always being dissatisfied with the party in power. Mr. Putin also dismissed allegations of corruption among his United Russia party members, calling it a “cliche” that the party had to fight.

Russia’s beleaguered opposition has been energized by the vote. Late Monday, thousands marched in Moscow chanting, “Russia without Putin!”

That demonstration apparently caught authorities by surprise, and police and troops on Tuesday substantially increased their visibility in an apparent effort to discourage more gatherings.

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