An estimated 8,000 to 10,000 people defied icy rain to protest the official results of Sunday’s parliamentary election, which gave victory to the ruling United Russia party led by President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
People chanted “Russia without Putin,” “Down with Thieves and Crooks”, “We’ll neither forget nor forgive” – in reference to what opposition leaders said was large-scale vote rigging that allowed the Kremlin party to grab more than half the seats in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian Parliament.
As the crowd swelled, police were forced to stop security screening of arriving protestors with metal detectors and remove fencing.
“We will not let them rob us of our votes, they must know we hate them all,” said popular whistleblower Alexei Navaly, who coined the now famous catchword “Party of Thieves and Crooks”, which has stuck fast to the United Russia party.
At one point, protesters began marching towards the Central Election Commission and the Kremlin, breaking through police lines and shouting anti-government slogans. It was not until riot police reinforcements arrived that they managed to break up the crowd, bundling people into dozens of buses parked on side streets.
About 300 people were detained, including a number of Russian and foreign reporters.
“I have not seen such a crowd in Moscow since 1993,” said Kommersant FM radio editor Dmitry Solopov. He was referring to a standoff between then President Boris Yeltsin and the Parliament that led to armed clashes and the storming of the legislature in October 1993 in which hundreds were killed.
Similar protest rallies took place on Monday in St. Petersburg and Samara, where police also detained scores of people.