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Russian PM Putin wins presidential election, opposition plans protests

Russian PM Putin wins presidential election, opposition plans protests
Russian PM Putin wins presidential election, opposition plans protests
Russian PM Putin wins presidential election, opposition plans protests

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin claimed victory in a presidential election that his opponents say was marred by fraud. Another huge demonstration was set for Monday evening in central Moscow.

“We won in an open and honest fight,” Putin said in front of thousands of supporters near the Kremlin last night as tears streamed down his face.

Putin thanked his supporters for helping foil plots aimed at destroying Russia. He defiantly proclaimed that they had triumphed over opponents’ intent on “destroying Russia’s statehood and usurping power.”

Putin, 59, who has been at Russia’s helm for 12 years including the last four as premier, won another six years in the Kremlin with about 64 percent of the vote, with more than 90 percent of all ballots counted, according to the Central Electoral Commission, which estimated turnout at 64 percent.

Communist Party candidate Gennady Zyuganov was a distant second, followed by Mikhail Prokhorov, the billionaire owner of the New Jersey Nets basketball team. Nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky and socialist Sergei Mironov trailed behind. The leader of the liberal opposition Yabloko party was barred from the race.

The election was “absolutely unfair,” Zyuganov said on state television. He declined to congratulate Putin on his victory or recognize the outcome. Prokhorov also said he didn’t consider the presidential vote honest.

“These elections are not free. ... That’s why we’ll have protests tomorrow. We will not recognize the president as legitimate,” said Mikhail Kasyanov, who was Putin’s first prime minister before going into opposition. “We will continue to call people to the streets.”

The wave of protests began after a December parliamentary election in which observers produced evidence of widespread vote fraud. Protest rallies in Moscow drew tens of thousands in the largest outburst of public anger in post-Soviet Russia, demonstrating growing exasperation with the pervasive corruption and tight controls over political life under Putin, who was president from 2000 to 2008 before moving into the prime minister’s office due to term limits.

Vote monitoring groups, the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe and Golos, will release their assessment of the presidential vote Monday.