Thousands of security forces have been patrolling Moscow while helicopters roam the sky amid protests over scandal-hit elections that saw Vladimir Putin‘s party struggle to keep a majority.
The demonstrations on Monday and Tuesday were an unusually sustained show of support for the Russian opposition. The thousands who rallied in the capital and St Petersburg clashed with police and interior ministry troops, who later detained hundreds of protesters.
More opposition rallies were expected on Wednesday, along with pro-Putin gatherings. Putin was expected to formally register on Wednesday to run for president, a position he held from 2000-2008, a period in which he grew more authoritarian.
Sunday’s parliamentary vote suggests Russians are tiring of Putin and his United Russia party. Preliminary results indicate the party won less than 50% of votes, a steep fall from its earlier majority. The poll has been marred by widespread allegations of vote-rigging.
The allegations have fired up the opposition, which has long seen its protests crushed and its pleas ignored by the Kremlin-dominated media. On Facebook, more than 10,000 people signed up to a page announcing an opposition rally for Saturday.
Authorities said on Tuesday at least 51,500 police officers and 2,000 interior ministry troops have been deployed in Moscow since the election.
At least 300 people were detained by police at a protest in central Moscow on Tuesday night that included flare-type fireworks thrown at a group of pro-Kremlin youth, said a city police spokesman, Maxim Kolosvetov.
Russian news agencies reported about demonstrators d200 were arrested at a similar attempt to hold an unsanctioned rally in St Petersburg and another 25 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don.
The Moscow protest ended after nearly four hours; the other rallies were broken up by police. But pro-Kremlin supporters also staged two large protests in Moscow that attracted thousands, highlighting political divisions in Russian society.
Although Sunday’s election results signal Putin’s return to the presidency in next March’s poll may not be as easy as he expected, he has downplayed the reduced majority.
He said it was “inevitable” because voters always are unhappy with the party in power. He also dismissed allegations of corruption among his United Russia party members.