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EU concerned by Russia poll, praises response to protests

EU president Herman Van Rompuy on Thursday stressed the bloc’s concerns over irregularities at last week’s Russian parliamentary polls but praised Moscow’s response to the ensuing protests.

Speaking at the close of EU-Russia summit talks with President Dmitry Medvedev, Van Rompuy said “we had an honest discussion” on the conduct of the Duma elections last week.

Free and fair elections, the respect of human rights and the rule of law, freedom of speech and right of assembly “are key for democracies,” Van Rompuy said at a joint press conference with Medvedev and European Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso.

Tens of thousands demonstrated in Moscow on Saturday, Russia’s biggest show of popular discontent since the turbulent 1990s.

The opposition is planning a new protest in Moscow on December 24 to call for the invalidation of the election results, predicting tens of thousands will turn oout again.

The 27-nation bloc welcomed the invitation of 500 observers to the election, he said, but added: “We are concerned by irregularities and lack of fairness” as reported by the observers and parts of the Russian public..

“And we are concerned by the detention of protesters.

“In contrast the recent large demonstrations were peaceful and the authorities in my view handled it very well,” he added.

Putin’s ruling United Russia party won the parliamentary elections but with less than half the vote — a result far weaker than in previous years but which the opposition said would have been far worse had the polls been free and fair.

Van Rompuy said the European Union welcomed a commitment by Medvedev “to investigate in a fair and impartial manner reports about electoral problems.”

He also voiced hopes for the smooth monitoring of presidential elections next March.