Nationwide vote protests hit Putin's rule
Moscow - Tens of thousands of election protesters turned out on Saturday in Moscow and other major cities across Russia in open defiance to strongman Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule.
Hundreds of security trucks blocked off central squares while helicopters patrolled the skies as Moscow police deployed more than 50 000 riot police and troops on the biggest day of protest to hit Russia since the turbulent 1990s.
Protesters braved a snow storm to snake their way through tight police cordons and across the Moscow River to a secluded square not far from the Kremlin assigned by the authorities for the "For Fair Elections" protest.
"The current regime does not know how to behave with dignity," former cabinet member turned Kremlin critic Boris Nemtsov said as the crowd gathered for the biggest Moscow opposition rally of the Putin era.
"All they know is cynicism," Nemtsov said in reference to a December 4 poll that handed Putin's United Russia party a slim victory amid widespread reports of fraud and strong concern from both the European Union and Washington.
Police reported up to 20 000 converging on the square 30 minutes into the sanctioned event while one organiser put the figure at 40 000.
The rolling rallies kicked off in Far Eastern hubs such as Khabarovsk where more than 50 people were detained during an unsanctioned rally attended by some 400 people amid -15°C chills.
Hundreds called on the authorities to "annul the election results" in the Pacific port of Vladivostok while rallies under the slogan of "Russia without Putin" spread across the Ural and Volga regions.
Moscow protesters - organised primarily through social network sites - had permission for 30 000 people to hold a rally on the Bolotnaya square across the river from the Kremlin after detaining some 1 600 activists during the week.
Hundreds of interior ministry trucks and buses sat parked across the centre of the capital while helicopters patrolled the skies and the police blocked the entrance to Red Square with trucks.