Anti-Putin protesters demonstrating in Moscow
4:02pm UK, Sunday December 11, 2011
Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered an investigation into allegations of election violations.
Mr Medvedev broke two days of silence on Sunday by posting a comment on Facebook to announce the probe into the parliamentary election result on December 4.
The opposition says the vote was rigged in favour of the ruling Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, which won a slim majority in the State Duma Lower House.
Tens of thousands of people in Moscow and around Russia demanded a re-run of the election on Saturday in the biggest opposition protests the country has seen in years.
Mr Medvedev wrote: “I do not agree with any slogans or statements made at the rallies. Nevertheless, instructions have been given by me to check all information from polling stations regarding compliance with the legislation on elections.”
Of the protests, he added: “Citizens of Russia have freedom of speech and freedom of assembly. People have a right to express the position that they did yesterday. It all took place within the framework of the law.”
Dmitry Medvedev and Vladimir Putin are due to swap jobs in 2012
The posting generated a raft of angry comments, including “Shame” and “We don’t believe you”.
Some Facebook users asked the Russian president whether he really disagrees with the protest’s main slogan: “We’re for fair elections.”
Others declared that the message had made them even more determined to take part in the next planned rally against electoral fraud, due on December 24.
Saturday’s public protest was the first ever mass challenge to Mr Putin’s rule.
Demonstrators took to the streets in dozens of cities across the country, calling for him to go and for a re-run of the poll.
In a change of tack, security forces barely intervened and city authorities allowed the demonstrations to go ahead. State television also broadcast protest scenes in Moscow.
Mr Putin is bidding to return to the presidency in March, having already served two terms between 2000 and 2008.
He has agreed a job swap with Mr Medvedev so that he will return as president in 2012 but the plan has sparked public anger.
Boris Nemtsov, an opposition leader, told Sky News earlier that the protests were a “disaster” for Mr Putin.
“This is the end of his career because thousands of ordinary people, not politicians not from opposition’s side but ordinary people, came to the streets because they are very tired about corruption, they are very tired about falsification, they are very tired about bureaucrats,” he said.
“If they say everybody is an American spy, what will be our response? We will continue our fight.”
Most political experts on Russia say Mr Putin is in little immediate danger of being toppled despite anger at widespread corruption and the gap between rich and poor.
But they say the 59-year-old leader’s authority has been damaged and could gradually wane if he returns as president, as expected next March.