- - Sunday, May 6, 2012

MOSCOW — A protest demonstration by at least 20,000 people on the eve of Vladimir Putin’s inauguration as president boiled into a battle with police after protesters tried to split off from the approved venue and march to the Kremlin.

Club-wielding, helmeted officers seized demonstrators and hauled them to police vehicles, dragging some by the hair.

Among those arrested were three of the leaders of the opposition movement that gained new life over the winter: Sergei Udaltsov, Alexei Navalny and Boris Nemtsov.

Previous installments of an unprecedented wave of protests that burst out after fraud-plagued parliamentary elections in December had been marked by fastidious order. The crowds, sometimes as big as 100,000 or more, had carefully kept to agreed-upon meeting-places and routes, even making a point of thanking police who stood guard in vast numbers but did not interfere.

Sunday’s break in that pattern likely reflected a sense of anger and impotence among protesters upset that Mr. Putin was handily elected to a new term in the Kremlin despite their startling defiance.

Mr. Putin, who imposed a political system that stifled dissent and who dismissed the protesters as callow, pampered youths and Western stooges, will be sworn in for a six-year term Monday.

ARMENIA

Parliamentary vote a test for president

YEREVAN — Armenians voted for a new parliament Sunday in an election that the nation’s president hoped would give him a majority among the lawmakers.

President Serge Sarkisian’s Republican Party was expected to win the election, but it was aiming for more than half of the seats to avoid having to form a coalition. The party held 62 of the 131 seats in the outgoing parliament, just shy of the majority.

The voting also was seen as a test of public support for Mr. Sarkisian, who comes up for re-election next year.

Armenia is the smallest of the former Soviet republics, with about 3.3 million people, but more than double that number of Armenians live abroad. The largest diasporas are in Russia and the United States.

The Republican Party’s main coalition partner, Prosperous Armenia led by businessman Gagik Tsarukian, grew increasingly critical of the president’s party during the campaign in an effort to win enough votes to force Mr. Sarkisian to share power, not only in parliament but also in the Cabinet.

The opposition Armenian National Congress, led by former President Levon Ter-Petrossian, also was expected to take seats in parliament.

International observers from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the Armenian government has taken steps in recent years to foster free and fair elections, including changes to electoral laws and the introduction of a new online election monitoring program.

Just less than 2.5 million people were eligible to vote in the parliamentary election, which was contested by nine parties or blocs.

GEORGIA

Orthodox patriarch baptizes 400 babies

TBILISI — The patriarch of the Georgian Orthodox Church baptized hundreds of babies in a Tbilisi cathedral in an effort credited with helping raise the birth rate in this former Soviet nation.

Patriarch Ilia II has promised to become the godfather of all babies born into Orthodox Christian families who already have two or more children.

Since he began the mass baptisms in 2008, he has gained nearly 11,000 godchildren.

Georgian President Mikhail Saaskashvili has said the patriarch deserves much of the credit for the rising birth rate, which in 2010 was 25 percent higher than in 2005.

Many of the parents of the 400 babies baptized Sunday said the patriarch was instrumental in their decision to have a third or fourth child.

From wire dispatches and staff reports

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