- - Monday, March 5, 2012

MOSCOW — Russian riot police arrested hundreds of protesters Monday, including prominent opposition leaders, who claimed Prime Minister Vladimir Putin stole Sunday’s presidential election.

Demonstrators shouted, “Russia without Putin,” as police moved into a crowd that refused to leave Pushkin Square in downtown Moscow, a short distance from the Kremlin and the seat of power in Russia.

Moscow authorities had approved the demonstration and dispatched about 12,000 police officers to keep order. When the official time for the rally ended, police ordered the demonstrators to disperse.

“I’m not leaving until our demands are met,” said Gleb Gladki, an activist from the liberal Yabloko party. “I’m not afraid. What should I be afraid of?”

“You are violating the laws of the Russian Federation,” Ilya Ponomaryov, anopposition member of parliament, shouted at police. “Stop now.”

Police linked arms and swept through the crowd, pushing protesters out of the square and detaining those who resisted. A number of people fell to the ground, as police forced their way toward fountains where protest leaders were standing.

Among those detained were blogger and opposition leader Alexei Navalny and Left Front Party leader Sergei Udaltsov.

“Hi, everyone, from the police truck,” Mr. Navalny wrote in his Twitter microblog after his arrest.

Mr. Ponomaryov told reporters after the protest that an estimated 1,000 people were arrested, including dozens who tried to block a main street leading to Red Square.

Police estimated the crowd at 14,000, but organizers said the rally drew more than 20,000.

The demonstrations erupted a day after Mr. Putin claimed victory in an election that international monitors said was marred by irregularities. Official returns showed that Mr. Putin gained about 64 percent of the vote to win a third term as president.

He was elected to two four-year terms from 2000 to 2008 and stepped down to serve as prime minister because the constitution prohibited him from seeking a third consecutive term. His new term is for six years because of a change in the election laws.

He nearest rival in the election, Communist Party chief Gennady Zyuganov, won almost 18 percent.

Tonino Picula, the head of the observer mission from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said the result of the election was never in doubt and that voters had no genuine choice.

“The point of elections is that the outcome should be uncertain. This was not the case in Russia,” he said.

Russian election observers noted numerous reports of so-called “carousel voting,” in which busloads of voters are driven to different voting sites to cast multiple ballots.

Protest leaders have called for another rally in downtown Moscow on Saturday.

“Our votes were stolen,” said Dmitry Grishin, a student. “And we have to keep coming out on the streets.”

Attendance at Monday’s rally was markedly down from weekend protests in December and February, when crowds estimated at 100,000 demonstrated against parliamentary elections also criticized as fraudulent.

About 100 people were arrested at another rally in Moscow on Monday, when activists of the radical opposition group the Other Russia demonstrated near the office of the electoral committee.

Russia’s election chief, Vladimir Churov, is a loyal Kremlin figure who once said, “My first rule is that Putin is always right.”

About 300 people were arrested at an anti-Putin rally in St. Petersburg, Russia’s second-largest city.

In Washington, the State Department issued a muted response, pledging to work with the “president-elect” as soon as the election results are certified. However, the department did not mention Mr. Putin by name or offer congratulations to him.

The department urged Moscow to “conduct an independent, credible investigation of all reported electoral violations,” and said the United States was encouraged by the level of participation in the election.

“The number of Russian election observers who monitored this vote is unprecedented and a sign that Russian society seeks to participate in the improvement of Russia’s democratic institutions,” the statement read.

Sen. John McCain, a critic of the Russian leader, mocked Mr. Putin in a Twitter message, in which he referred to videos Sunday night of the Russian leader with tears in his eyes as he addressed supporters.

“Dear Vlad, Surprise! Surprise! You won,” the Arizona Republican said. “The Russian people are crying, too.”

c Guy Taylor contributed to this article, which is based in part on wire service reports.



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