Moscow set for chaos as 40,000 vow poll protest

Will Stewart – Evening Standard December 8, 2011

A bloody confrontation is feared in Moscow as Russian authorities seek to crush a mass demonstration of people demanding a re-run of elections.

By today, some 40,000 people had gone online to vow to attend a protest on Saturday in Revolution Square, in the shadow of the Kremlin.

It will be the biggest challenge so far to last Sunday’s parliamentary polls, won by prime minister Vladimir Putin’s party United Russia.

The result was widely seen as rigged, with the opposition and independent monitors accusing the ruling party of using fraud and control of government and media to influence the result.

With a huge number of police and interior ministry troops already in the capital, one opposition leader, Vladimir Milov said of the planned rally: “This can end in big blood”. Participants are being called on to wear white ribbons to show they are peaceful. But the Moscow mayor’s office said only 300 people may legally attend, and there are fears riot police will smash the protest if it exceeds this number.

In Sunday’s election, United Russia saw its vote fall from 64 per cent to just under 50 per cent, but it managed to retain a majority in the Duma. Today monitoring group the Citizen Observer Movement claimed up to 25 per cent of the vote obtained by Mr Putin’s party was “stolen” from other groupings.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has raised concerns over the poll and former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has demanded it be re-run. Mr Putin denies claims of fraud and accused Mrs Clinton of encouraging protesters.

He said Ms Clinton “gave them a signal, they heard this signal and started active work”. He also accused the protesters of acting “in accordance with a well-known scenario and in their own mercenary political interests”. He warned that those working for foreign governments to influence Russian politics would be held to account.

More than 1,000 people have already been arrested in a wave of anger over the election. An Amnesty International spokesman said: “We fear police are simply quashing protest, no matter how peaceful.”

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