Massive protests in Russia against Putin
Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets again to protest against the rule of Vladmir Putin and demand a rerun of the parliamentary election earlier this month that was marred by fraud.
The protesters shouted "Russia without Putin" and "New elections, New elections" as one speaker after another called for an end to Putin's 12-year domination of the country at the second big opposition rally in two weeks in central Moscow.
"Do you want Putin to return to the presidency?" novelist Boris Akunin asked from a large stage. Whistling and jeering, protesters chanted: "No!"
Witnesses said at least as many people turned out as at the last big Moscow rally on December 10 to protest against alleged vote-rigging in the December 4 election won by Putin's United Russia party.
Police said at least 28,000 attended the rally on Prospekt Sakharova (Sakharov Avenue), named after Soviet-era dissident Andrei Sakharov. But one of the organizers, liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, put the crowd size at 120,000. Some climbed lamp-posts or trees to get a better view.
The big turnout is likely to encourage organizers to believe they can keep up the momentum of the biggest opposition demonstrations since Putin rose to power in 1999, although the prime minister seems intent on riding out the protests.
"I see enough people to take the Kremlin and the White House (government headquarters) right now!" anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, who has emerged as the most inspirational of the opposition leaders, said to loud cheers.
"But we are a peaceful force, we won't do it - yet. But if the crooks and thieves continue trying to deceive us and lie to us, we will take (power) ourselves. It is ours!"
While the protests are large, they won't stop Putin from winning election next spring as president. Most Russians see him as a savior following the chaos after the collapse of the Soviet Union. That, and the fact that the opposition is divided, as well as being suppressed, means that Putin should have little trouble making it back to the presidency.