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Russian opposition bracing for new weekend rallies

Russia’s opposition parties are bracing for new massive weekend rallies against election fraud following Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s rejection of protesters’ demands for a rerun.

world Updated: Dec 16, 2011 23:33 IST

Russia’s opposition parties are bracing for new massive weekend rallies against election fraud following Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s rejection of protesters’ demands for a rerun.

Several parties and groups — which last weekend staged a rally that drew tens of thousands to a square across the river from the Kremlin to protest fraud in the December 4 parliamentary election — have scheduled a follow-up rally on Saturday.

Prime Minister Putin, speaking Thursday in a marathon call-in TV show, insisted that the vote results reflected the people’s will and dismissed the protesters as Western stooges.

Putin, who has consistently marginalised the opposition and tightened election rules during his 12-year rule, also promised some moves toward liberalisation, but the opposition dismissed it as an attempt to deflect public anger.

Putin’s popularity takes a hit

Vladimir Putin’s approval ratings have declined to historic lows, polls showed on Friday, as liberal media suggested the powerful prime minister was growing out of touch after Russia was swept by protests.

The day earlier Putin gave one of his trademark strongman performances at his annual phone-in with Russians, joking that he mistook the white ribbons on protesters’ lapels for condoms and saying he was learning to play ice hockey during the largest rallies of his 12-year rule.

“His style looked outdated and jokes not funny,” Vedomosti business daily said in an editorial. “Comparisons of the white ribbons to condoms and accusations of being paid to demonstrate were not pretty or smart.”

Prominent commentator Mikhail Fishman added in the same newspaper: “Putin does not realise that the rising tide is largely directed against him personally.”

- AP & AFP