By Dmitry Zaks / AFP
MOSCOW: Russia’s opposition vowed to wage a campaign of civil disobedience Tuesday after police detained hundreds in rallies against Vladimir Putin’s crushing victory in polls.
“Tens of thousands will be coming out on the streets of Moscow and other cities and refusing to leave,” popular blogger Alexei Navalny told reporters after spending part of the night in detention.
“We will keep doing this until our demands are met.”
Navalny and two other leaders of the disparate anti-Putin opposition were due to attend hearings on Tuesday after refusing to break up a rally in Moscow late Monday when given a police ultimatum.
Monday’s protests in Moscow and Saint Petersburg mark a sobering start for a leader who knew no dissent while dominating Russia in his first two terms in the Kremlin in 2000-2008.
Putin won Sunday’s presidential election with 63.6 percent of the vote and in May will be sworn in to serve for a six-year term that can theoretically be extended.
But European monitors raised concerns about the polls and the opposition — its leaders excluded from both the polls and most access to state media — have vowed to make protests a permanent feature of Putin’s new presidency.
Liberal campaigner Ilya Yashin faced a 15-day jail sentence while Navalny himself said he may have to pay a small fine.
Opposition leaders said they will have to cancel a protest on International Woman’s Day public holiday Thursday and would now prepare for mass events over the weekend.
“The awakening of society,” was how the respected Vedomosti daily headlined a front-page editorial analyzing the difficulties Putin was likely to encounter on his return to the Kremlin.
“The possible return of Putin for two more terms has brought on fears of stagnation and despair,” it said.
Police reported detaining 250 people in Moscow and another 370 in Putin’s native city of Saint Petersburg. A similar number of arrests were made following a fraud-tainted parliamentary election on December 4.
The ruling party’s disputed victory then sparked the first sustained wave of anti-Kremlin demonstrations since the Soviet era and the movement will now hope to use observers’ criticism of Sunday’s ballot to spur on their campaign.
European observers led by the OSCE said better transparency was eclipsed by the fact that “conditions were clearly skewed in favour of” Putin, currently Russia’s prime minister.
Russia’s independent monitoring group Golos said the polls “were neither free nor fair.”
Putin’s return received a muted welcome from Western leaders while being cheered by Moscow’s Soviet allies Syria and Iran.
The US State Department urged Russia to conduct “an independent, credible investigation” into the reported abuses while noting that monitors also found Putin to be the “clear winner”.
British Prime Minister David Cameron told Putin in a telephone conversation that he “looked forward to working” with him and French President Nicolas Sarkozy expressed his best wishes.
Some Moscow dailies noted that the Moscow rally marked the first time since the biggest wave of post-Soviet rallies began in December that police moved in to disperse a demonstration.
It also featured the first speaking appearance by tycoon and third-place election candidate Mikhail Prokhorov — an independent who has vowed to build his own party after winning almost 8.0 percent of the vote.
“I am certain that the use of force and detention of opposition politicians could have been avoided,” Prokhorov wrote on his Twitter Tuesday.