In the biggest protests since the fall of the Soviet Union, some 50,000 people approached the Kremlin to protest the rule of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.Demonstrators claimed in a rally Saturday that last Sunday's parliamentary elections were rigged, and demanded a new poll be taken.
The rally had been permitted by authorities, as long as it was moved from the central Revolution Square to Bolotnaya Square -- an island south of the Kremlin in the Moscow River, where access points were more easily controlled by police.Protests had spread from Moscow this week to S. Petersburg, Vladivostok and other cities across Russia, as Communists, nationalists and even Western-leaning liberalists united to demonstrate against the government.
More than 1,000 people were arrested during protests throughout the week, mostly in Moscow, according to the Reuters news agency.Anti-corruption campaign manager Alexei Navalny released a statement through his blog, despite being jailed, saying, "The time has come to throw off the chains. We are not cattle or slaves. We have a voice and we have the strength to defend it."
Police estimated the number of protesters who gathered Saturday in Moscow's Bolotnaya Square for a "Fair Elections" rally to be 25,000, but BBC reporter Daniel Sandford reported at the scene that it actually appeared the number was closer to 50,000.A resolution was passed -- apparently at the rally 00 calling for the cancellation of Sunday's election results. Protesters called for new elections, the ouster of electoral commission chief Vladimir Churov, a probe into the alleged ballot-stuffing, and the immediate release of those protesters who had been arrested.
The Kremlin, tolerant to a point, drew a line at the demands.United Russia parliamentarian Konstantin Kosachyov told Reuters, "With all respect for the people who came out to protest, they are not a political party."
Putin, who has ruled Russia for ten years, has seen his popularity slip this year, with his United Russia party garnering only 24 percent of the vote in his own district in last Sunday election.
Although he is currently prime minister, a prior political arrangement made between him and the current president, Dmitry Medvedev, has the two men switching places in the next six months to return Putin to his former position as president of the country.