Russians Protest Amid Alleged Election Fraud

Tens of thousands of Russians turned out for rallies in Moscow and other cities Saturday to protest alleged fraud in last week's parliamentary elections. The protests appear to be the biggest mass demonstrations since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Peter van Dyk reports from Moscow about the protest there.

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GUY RAZ, HOST:

In Russia today, tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in cities across the country. They were demanding a new vote after last Sunday's parliamentary election. According to official results, the ruling United Russia party - that's the party of Vladimir Putin - won a slim majority. But opponents say the vote was a fraud. And many who've spoken out in recent days have been detained. Today's rallies were the largest opposition demonstrations in Russia since the early 1990s and a clear challenge to the leadership of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Peter van Dyk is in Moscow, and filed this report.

PETER VAN DYK, BYLINE: There are thousands upon thousands of people here, packing this park. Some of them can hardly hear the speakers, let alone see the stage.

BORIS NEMTSOV: (Foreign language spoken)

VAN DYK: On stage, Boris Nemtsov got straight to the point.

NEMTSOV: (Foreign language spoken)

VAN DYK: You're going to laugh, he says. Who did the party of crooks and thieves - that's United Russia - steal votes from in Lenin Hills? he asks. From the Communists.

NEMTSOV: (Foreign language spoken)

VAN DYK: Nemtsov is a veteran liberal, but the crowd contains people of all political stripes including Communists, who came second in the election. And there were people of all ages, too.

ZOYA RYABCHENKO: (Foreign language spoken)

VAN DYK: Pensioner Zoya Ryabchenko says she almost cried when she saw how many people came.

RYABCHENKO: (Foreign language spoken)

VAN DYK: This is what we did for our sons and grandsons, she says, and now they've taken it on. Ilya Feinberg is 27. He didn't vote because he didn't like anyone on the ballot. But the lawyer wants his voice to be heard.

ILYA FEINBERG: I am here because of my family. I have a one-and-a-half-years-old daughter. And when I recently heard that these guys are supposed to be - to govern our country for 12 more years, we are sick and tired. And I don't know what to say to my daughter in 12 years when she asks me, Daddy, why didn't you do something with that?

VAN DYK: He's talking about Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's return in presidential elections due in March, possibly for two more six-year terms. Feinberg is typical of the sort of young professionals who are protesting. Everything is filmed on hundreds of smartphones and even iPads.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VAN DYK: As things wind down, the crowd thins out. And despite freezing temperatures and falling snow, some of the thousands of students here try to spread a bit of peace and love.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

VAN DYK: The police may not have danced but they didn't interfere, either. There were no arrests, no confrontations, and liberal writer Dmitry Bykov even gave a shout-out to the militsiya.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

VAN DYK: As police direct protesters to the Metro, a question hangs in the air: How many will come back for the next demonstration in two weeks' time? Count Marina Ivanova in.

MARINA IVANOVA: I always go to such protest actions in Moscow. So it's - well, it's not my first time, but I can say that it's largest - largest, of course, because usually it's a hundred, maybe, or even less. But this is sort of a new step, I don't know; a new time for all opposition and for all Russia - maybe.

VAN DYK: Maybe. The elections changed people here, but they have yet to change the country.

For NPR News, I'm Peter van Dyk in Moscow.

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