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New Duma Opens, Picks Putin Ally As Speaker

Deputies listen to the national anthem during the first session of Russia's new State Duma on December 21.
The new State Duma that emerged from this month's bitterly disputed elections has picked an ally of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and a former Kremlin chief of staff to be its speaker as its first major order of business.

Sergei Naryshkin was backed by 238 deputies in the vote.

Putin's United Russia party was awarded 238 of the 450 seats in the Duma, the lower house of parliament, in December 4 elections.

Critics claim the election was rigged in favor of United Russia and have called for a rerun.

The Communists have 92 seats, pro-Kremlin A Just Russia 64, and Vladimir Zhirinovsky's nationalist Liberal Democratic Party 56. Other major opposition groups were said to have fallen short of the threshold for parliamentary representation.

The vote result sparked protests, including a rally near the Kremlin on December 10, which was attended by about 50,000 people, and other demonstrations around the country.

Blogger and anticorruption campaigner Aleksei Navalny was freed from a jail in southern Moscow early on December 21 after having completed his 15-day sentence in connection with the protests. Hundreds of other protesters were also arrested.

Protest and opposition leaders are planning further demonstrations around the country on December 24, with tens of thousands expected to attend.

compiled from agency reports