Thousands of Russians on Monday protested at Vladimir Putin’s return to the presidency in an election described by Western monitors as skewed and marred by procedural irregularities.
Some 14,000 people according to police turned out in Pushkin Square in central Moscow chanting ‘Russia Yes! Putin No!’ as hundreds of helmeted riot police stood by on guard.
But Moscow police arrested dozens of protesters at a separate unsanctioned event near the central election commission while an AFP reporter saw nearly one hundred detained at an unauthorized meeting in Putin’s native Saint Petersburg.
International observers led by the Organization for Security and Co-Operation in Europe (OSCE) earlier said the elections were skewed in favor of Putin.
‘There was no real competition and abuse of government resources ensured that the ultimate winner of the election was never in doubt,’ Tonino Picula, one of the vote monitors from the OSCE, said in a statement, according to Reuters.
‘Conditions (for the campaign) were clearly skewed in favor of... Vladimir Putin,’ the observers said in a statement. The vote count was ‘assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities,’ the OSCE added.
Monitors also called for alleged electoral violations in Sunday’s election to be thoroughly investigated.
The vote count was ‘assessed negatively in almost one-third of polling stations observed due to procedural irregularities,’ they added.
Putin secured almost 64 percent of the vote in Sunday’s election, winning back the Russian presidency which he held for two terms from 2000-2008 before his four-year stint as prime minister.
His nearest rival, the Communist Party boss Gennady Zyuganov, trailed well behind in a landslide victory.
The Russian strongman is now set for an inauguration expected in May to formally regain the Kremlin post he occupied for two terms from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister under the presidency of Medvedev.
Putin and foreign policy
France urged Vladimir Putin on Monday to mark his return to the Russian presidency by dropping Moscow’s support for Bashar al-Assad’s regime and backing international pressure on Syria.
‘Russia has totally isolated itself from the rest of the international community,’ French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe warned, urging Putin ‘now the elections have passed... to revisit Russia’s Syria policy.’
‘If we could quickly get a (U.N.) Security Council resolution that orders Damascus to halt the violence, allow access for humanitarian aid and put the Arab League peace plan into effect, that would be real progress,’ he said.
‘It’s not impossible; we’re going to work on it in the coming days.’