Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev called on Russian authorities Wednesday to annul the disputed results of Russia's parliamentary elections and hold a new poll as anger grows over allegations of election fraud.
Gorbachev told the Interfax news agency that "authorities must hold a fresh election or deal with a rising tide of discontent" following protests against the results of Sunday's election.
"More and more people are starting to believe that the election results are not fair," Gorbachev said. "I believe that ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities and destabilizes the situation."
Thousands of Russians have rallied in Moscow and St. Petersburg in the last two days, facing off against tens of thousands of police and interior ministry troops. Hundreds of protesters have been detained in both cities.
Several thousand people first took to the streets of central Moscow late on Monday as allegations of election fraud and voting irregularities took hold in the wake of Vladimir Putin's United Russia retained power – albeit with a greatly reduced share of the vote.
Opposition parties and international observers said the vote was marred by vote-rigging, including alleged ballot-box stuffing and false voter rolls.
Gorbachev said Wednesday that authorities "must admit that there have been numerous falsifications and ballot stuffing".
Sunday's parliamentary vote suggested Russians are tiring of Putin and his United Russia party, which has dominated all other political forces in Russia for the past dozen years and earned a reputation for extensive corruption.
Putin, meanwhile, officially registered on Wednesday to run for the presidency in March, but the unusually sustained protests of the past two days suggested his drive to retake the job he held from 2000-2008 may not go as smoothly as he had expected.
Allegations of election fraud combined with the success of social media driven post-election protests have fired up the opposition, which has long seen its protests crushed and its pleas ignored by the Kremlin-dominated media.