Moscow sends army to stop poll protests

Moscow sends army to stop poll protests

Moscow sends army to stop poll protests

Police officers detain an opposition activist during a protest against vote rigging in St. Petersburg. Thousands took to the streets against the results of elections. AP photo

Russia has sent interior ministry troops to Moscow and increased the alert level of security forces after a protest of thousands of people opposing Vladimir Putin, officials said yesterday. “They (the troops) have just one aim -- to ensure the security of the citizens,” interior ministry forces spokesman Colonel Vasily Panchenkov told the Interfax news agency while a police spokesman said the security forces were now on a “heightened regime” of alert.

Several thousand people took to the streets in the capital late Dec. 5 despite rain for a rally against the results of Dec. 4’s elections in which Putin’s United Russia party won but with a sharply reduced majority. Russian News Service radio, citing its listeners, said several trucks filled with troops were heading into the center of Moscow along the city’s main thoroughfares. A spokesman for Moscow police said that up to 4,000 police and interior ministry troops would be deployed to ensure order during several planned rallies in the Russian capital yesterday.

Police said they arrested 300 people including prominent activist Ilya Yashin and opposition blogger Alexei Navalny in the protest Dec. 5 when participants headed towards the Lubyanka Square that houses the feared FSB security service. It was the largest protest in many years and a boost for Russia’s embattled opposition which traditionally struggles to mobilize protests in a country which has lost its taste for street politics in the turbulent 90s.

Meanwhile, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggested Russia’s elections were neither free nor fair as she made a broad plea yesterday for digital freedoms at a European security gathering in Lithuania. Clinton cited “serious concerns” about the elections. “When authorities fail to prosecute those who attack people for exercising their rights or exposing abuses, they subvert justice and undermine the people’s confidence in their governments,” Clinton.

Compiled from AFP and Reuters stories by the Daily News staff.