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Moscow Allows 50,000 To Rally Against Putin


Russian police tussle with participants in an opposition rally in central Moscow on March 5.
Authorities in the Russian capital, Moscow, have granted permission to opposition activists to gather this weekend to protest Vladimir Putin's election to a third presidential term.

Moscow Deputy Mayor Aleksandr Gorbenko told Ekho Moskvy radio on March 7 that the rally will take place on March 10 at the city's central Arbat Square and is allowed to number up to 50,000 people.

Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov said the opposition had been informed about the decision to permit the rally.

The sanctioning of the rally comes as Putin defended a police crackdown on opposition rallies in the wake of the March 4 presidential vote.

Activists say police and riot troops used clubs and physical force to detain and intimidate thousands of anti-Putin protesters gathered in two central locations in the Russian capital on March 5.

Speaking to journalists on March 7, the prime minister and president-elect said the police had behaved "tactfully" and "very professionally. Nobody was beaten. No special [antiriot] equipment was used. They pushed [the protesters] back after they began to break the law."

The police crackdown followed a season of relatively peaceful protests against disputed parliamentary elections in December and Putin's controversial bid for an unprecedented third term.

Final election results released on March 7 show Putin as winning with 63.6 percent of the vote. Support was substantially lower in the capital, Moscow, where he took just 47 percent of the vote.

Putin's official victory leaves him positioned to dominate Russian politics for as many as 12 more years.

Casting Doubt On Putin Victory

One of the country's leading opposition groups, the Russian League of Voters, on March 7 condemned the vote, saying widespread electoral violations made it "impossible" to recognize Putin's win.

Speaking at a Moscow news conference, popular crime novelist Boris Akunin said anger over the vote could reduce Russia to chaos.

"As a the result of the big presidential campaign, which consisted of parliament and presidential elections, our country -- let's face it -- has found itself in an unstable and alarming situation," Akunin said.

Russia is "in a situation when the major part of the society and its active members either doubt or refuse to recognize the parliament and the president of the Russian Federation as legitimate," he added.

Western monitors earlier this week criticized the Russian vote as unfair, saying the campaign season was marked by a dramatic pro-Putin bias and that the vote offered no genuine competition.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on March 7 echoed the concerns, and expressed alarm over the arrest of peaceful opposition protesters in the wake of Putin's victory.

At the same time, however, she said the "election had a clear winner" and the United States was "ready" to work with Putin.

Clinton expressed hope that Russia's "internal dialogue" would move forward in the years to come, "so that the Russian people's aspirations can be fully realized."

Putin Picks Prokhorov

In other news, Putin said one of his most outspoken election rivals, opposition candidate Mikhail Prokhorov, would be a welcome addition to a new government cabinet.

Speaking to journalists on March 7, Putin described billionaire Prokhorov as a "serious person" and a "good entrepreneur."

Putin said he would discuss a possible cabinet post for Prokhorov in talks with outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev in the coming days.

The 46-year-old Prokhorov, the sole liberal candidate in the presidential vote, finished a distant third with just 8 percent of the vote.

Prokhorov has criticized the election as "dishonest," but refrained from criticizing Putin directly.

With Reuters, ITAR-TASS, AFP, and Interfax reporting