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Thousands rally in Russia against vote results

Thousands of Russians rallied Monday in central Moscow and Saint Petersburg protesting violations in legislative elections that handed victory to Vladimir Putin’s ruling party with a reduced majority.

Police said about 100 opposition protesters were detained in Russia’s second city after they tried holding an unsanctioned rally on the main Nevsky Prospekt thoroughfare for the second day in a row.

A larger event in central Moscow drew some 3,000 people to a protest featuring liberals who had been barred from participating in the polls.

The Moscow opposition rally was sanctioned by the police and there were no initial arrests, with protesters holding up signs with slogans such as “the elections are a farce,” an AFP correspondent reported

“They are a party of crooks and thieves,” said popular anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, using a slogan which he coined and which has since been picked up by the entire Russian opposition.

United Russia collected just 238 seats in the 450-seat State Duma in Sunday’s election, down sharply from the 315 seats it won in the last polls in 2007.

But the vote was marred by unprecedented state pressure against independent election monitors and various reports of violations that drew a stiff rebuke Monday from a group of European observers led by the OSCE.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also expressed “serious concern” about the results, which were hailed by President Dmitry Medvedev as fair and democratic.