Russia's opposition threatens 'falsified vote' protests
A top Russian opposition group accused Vladimir Putin's ruling party on Saturday of preparing to win next week's parliamentary polls through fraud and threatened mass protests in case of an unfair result.
A Moscow rally organised by A Just Russia -- the smallest of four parties in the State Duma lower house of parliament -- drew some 500 protesters to a small square near the Kremlin under threatening skies.
The demonstration was one of two planned for Moscow and coincided with a similar event in Putin's native city of Saint Petersburg that drew about 300 people under the banner of "a free and fair vote".
Senior A Just Russia lawmaker Gennady Gudkov told a crowd of supporters clad in orange vests in Moscow that Russia's fractured opposition had "a common enemy" to fight in the December 4 polls.
"United Russia has a strong popularity rating of 30 percent," the former KGB agent said, referring to Putin's party. "But it does not have 60 or 50 percent. And if they get those results in elections, it will be the result of fraud."
The last opinion polls permitted under Russian law showed support slipping for the Kremlin group that formed around Putin and first stormed parliament in 2003.
But United Russia is still expected to win more than half of all the Duma seats after holding a two-thirds constitutional majority in the outgoing chamber.
Gudkov alleged that extra ballot papers were being printed and buses were being lined up to take voters to polling stations by Russia's various regional administration chiefs.
"There are full preparations under way for election fraud," he said as banners waved in the crowd showing United Russia's white bear mascot walking through a stop sign with the word "Enough!" written at the bottom.
"This is a crime against the constitution and a crime against the future of the country. We have to put an end to this monopoly of power," Gudkov said.
"If this fraud takes place, we will go to the streets."
A second unsanctioned event was being planned later Saturday across the Moscow River from the White House government building where Putin now formally has his offices.
That event was called by Russia's leading liberals and early radio reports said that up to 2,500 people had shown up despite a heavy police presence -- an unusually large number for a banned political event in Moscow.
Putin agreed in September to run in next year's presidential elections under a job swap with Dmitry Medvedev that will see the current head of state pick up the premiership after the vote.
The plan has stirred deep resentment from the opposition and the Duma vote is expected to provide the first measure of public support for Putin's plans to return to the Kremlin.
Some of the 300 people who marched peacefully through Putin's native city of Saint Petersburg said they hoped the Duma election would mark the day that the tightly-controlled political system that he had erected would begin to crumble.
"Putin's support is dropping. You can see that all around," said 48-year-old Marat Gelman.
"But if we stay home on December 4, he will win again. I hope this day will be remembered as the one on which Putin's party began its decline.
© 2011 AFP