Putin accuses US of sparking election unrest
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin on Thursday accused the United States of provoking the post-election protests in Russia, warning that demonstrators who broke the law would be punished.
Around 1,000 people have been arrested in three days of protests in Moscow alleging mass fraud in the parliamentary polls and organisers defiantly vowed to stage a mass protest in Moscow at the weekend
In his first public comments on the demonstrations, Putin lashed out at US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton who he said had criticised Sunday's elections before even reading the reports of international monitors.
Clinton had complained the polls were neither free nor fair, a concern echoed by the last president of the USSR Mikhail Gorbachev who said they should be re-run due to ballot rigging.
The US criticism "had set the tone for some people inside the country and given a signal," Putin said. "They heard the signal and with the support of the US State Department started active work."
In the run-up to the election, Putin had already accused the West of funding Russian NGOs with the aim of questioning the validity of the elections. Independent poll monitoring group Golos said it had subsequently been subjected to harrassment by the authorities.
Putin said Russia did not want to see the instability endured by Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, two ex-Soviet states that saw regimes toppled in so-called "colour revolutions" after the fall of the Soviet Union.
"People in our country do not want the situation in Russia to develop like it was in Kyrgyzstan or in Ukraine. No-one wants chaos," Putin said.
The authorities should enter into dialogue with the opposition -- but protestors should be punished with the full force of the law if they broke the rules, he added.
"If somebody breaks the law then the security forces must implement the law with full legal means," Putin said.
"We are all adults here, and we all understand that some of the organisers are following a well-known scenario, and they have their own narrow political goals," he said in comments broadcast on state television.
The elections were seen as a litmus test of Putin's popularity ahead of his planned return to the presidency in March 2012 polls.
His United Russia party won the polls, albeit with a reduced majority, but the opposition says the results for the ruling party would have been far worse in free polls.
Putin, who became prime minister in 2008 after serving two Kremlin terms, on Wednesday filed his application to stand in presidential elections and has already started assembling his campaign team.
Over 20,000 people have pledged on a Facebook page called "for honest elections" to attend the protest on Saturday afternoon on Revolution Square, just metres from the Kremlin walls.
While the rally is officially sanctioned by the authorities, the permission is for a maximum of 300 people, raising the prospect that it will be broken up by anti-riot police if greater numbers show up.
"They have said 300. If more come then we will bring the organisers to responsibility," Moscow's deputy mayor Alexander Gorbenko told Moscow Echo radio. He also suggested that a different location could be found.
But ex-cabinet minister and leading opposition figure Boris Nemtsov said the meeting had to go ahead.
"The authorities are trying to intimidate their own people and doing everything that the meeting does not take place."
The Facebook page emphasises that the protest will be peaceful and tells participants to bring with them balloons and flowers and pin white ribbons to their coats.
The first demonstration on Monday after Sunday's polls took the authorities by surprise. Since then police in anti-riot gear, interior ministry troops and armoured police trucks have become a visible presence in the city centre.
Some 300 people were arrested in the first night of protests and over 550 people in the second protest a night later. Dozens were also detained after a smaller attempt at a protest on Wednesday evening.
"The scale of arrests has not been in any way justified," Amnesty International said. "We fear that the Russian police are simply quashing opposition protest, no matter how peaceful."
© 2011 AFP