Russian opposition bracing for new weekend rallies

December 16, 2011 - 10:15 AM

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's opposition parties on Friday called for weekend rallies to protest election fraud following Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rejection of protesters' demands for a rerun of a disputed parliamentary poll.

Several parties and groups hope for a repeat of last weekends mass gatherings in Moscow and other cities, when tens of thousands of people vented their anger against results of parliamentary poll on Dec. 4 which they say were marred ballot stuffing and other irregularities.

The Moscow protest was the largest in Russia's post-Soviet history, signaling that Putin's comeback to the presidential job he held from 2000 to 2008 will not be as easy as had been expected only two weeks ago.

On Thursday, Putin insisted that the vote results reflected the people's will and dismissed the protesters as Western stooges.

Putin's United Russia party won nearly 50 percent of the vote, a 20 percent decrease on the number of seats it held in the previous legislature. The opposition and some observers said the slim majority it retained was due to widespread vote fraud.

The widespread protest following the vote reflected popular anger against Putin's party, dubbed by its critics as a "party of crooks and thieves."

"The crooks and thieves have stolen our victory," Oksana Dmitriyeva, a leading member of the opposition Just Russia party wrote in her blog, alleging that her party's victory in St. Petersburg, Russia's second-largest city was taken away from it through massive fraud.

Putin, who has consistently marginalized the opposition and tightened election rules during his 12-year rule, promised on Friday some moves toward liberalization. He proposed placing web cameras in all the country's poling stations for the March 4 presidential election that he is contesting.

The opposition dismissed Putin's proposal as an attempt to deflect public anger.