Big protests against Putin in Russia
The biggest protests in Russia in more than a decade were held today in cities across the length and breadth of Russia demanding a rerun of the fixed parliamentary elections and the end of Valdmir Putin's rule.
Protesters waved banners such as "The rats should go!" and "Swindlers and thieves - give us our elections back!" in cities from the Pacific port of Vladivostok in the east to Kaliningrad in the west, nearly 7,400 km (4,600 miles) away.
Riot police were out in force with dogs and in trucks, but they did little to douse protests that showed a groundswell of discontent with Putin as he prepares to reclaim the presidency next year, and anger over the December 4 election which the opposition says was rigged to favor his United Russia party.
"Today 60,000, maybe 100,000 people, have come to this rally," former prime minister Mikhail Kasyanov said in a speech to flag-waving and chanting protesters packed into Bolotnaya Square across the Moscow River from the Kremlin.
"This means today is the beginning of the end for these thieving authorities," said Kasyanov, who now leads an opposition movement which was barred from the election.
People of all ages gathered in Moscow, many carrying white carnations as the symbol of their protest and some waving pictures of Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev declaring: "Guys, it's time to go." Helicopters at times buzzed overhead.
Vladimir Ryzhkov, an opposition leader, read out a list of demands including annulling the election and holding a new one, registering opposition parties, dismissing the election commission head and freeing people the protesters call political prisoners.
"Russia has changed today - the future has changed," he said, urging demonstrators to come out for new protests on December 24. The crowd chanted, "We'll be back!"
Putin allowed the protests to go forward but instructed the media not to highlight anti-Putin speeches or language. It hardly matters. Putin is in no danger today and almost certainly is a lock to win election as president next spring.
But it could be that his cloak of invincibility has been taken away. He is not unassailable and has lost a lot of the popularity he had just a few short months ago. He may win the presidency, but he has already lost the hearts and minds of a majority of his countrymen.