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Russia's 'Arab Spring'? Clashes break out in 2 cities

Crowds have packed the streets of Russia in protest of the country's parliamentary elections. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.

MOSCOW -- Police and protesters clashed Tuesday on a central Moscow square as people tried to hold a second day of demonstrations against alleged vote fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections. Protesters in the city of St. Petersburg also broke through police lines.

Hundreds of people have been arrested in the two cities.


Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party saw a significant drop in support in Sunday's election, but it will still have a majority in parliament. Opponents say even that watered-down victory was due to massive vote fraud.

Russia's beleaguered opposition has been energized by the vote, staging its biggest protests in Moscow for years.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated U.S. suggestions that Sunday's election was neither free nor fair. Russia's Foreign Ministry later branded U.S. criticism "unacceptable." Meanwhile, Republican Senator John McCain offered Putin a warning on Twitter: "Dear Vlad, The Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you."

Reuters

Police officers detain an protester during a rally in Moscow on Tuesday. Russia's opposition was energized when Vladimir Putin's ruling party struggled in a weekend election.

Updated at 2:56 p.m. ET: Police said they had detained more than 400 people in St. Petersburg and Moscow, Reuters reports. But police prevented many from joining the Moscow rally and hundreds of pro-Putin youths in blue anoraks tried to spoil it, shouting "The people! Putin" to drown out their chants of "Russia without Putin" and "We want free elections!"

Updated at 12:35 p.m. ET: The Associated Press corrects its previous report, saying its reporter saw "flare-type fireworks," not firebombs in central Moscow.

Updated at 12:20 p.m. ET: About 250 people have been arrested in connection with the downtown Moscow protests, police tell The Associated Press.

Updated at 12:18 p.m. ET: At least two firebombs were thrown during demonstrations by both pro-Kremlin and anti-vote fraud protesters in central Moscow, an Associated Press reporter says. It is unclear who threw them or if anyone was hurt, the reporter says.

Updated at 12:10 p.m. ET: Firebombs are thrown during a protest in downtown Moscow, an Associated Press reporter says.

Updated at 12:05 p.m. ET: About 60 opposition supporters were arrested at an unsanctioned demonstration in the city of St. Petersburg, Russia Today reports. Citing news sources and people at the scene, Russia Today says police tried to cordon off the crowd but some people broke through and headed toward the city's legislative assembly building.

Updated at 11:45 a.m. ET: A man being arrested by riot police, who gives his name only as Alexei, tells Reuters, "We want fair elections. Look at what they have done to our country, our Russia."

But Maxim Mishenko, 34, tells the news service, "I don't want the same thing to happen here as in Libya or Syria. There will be no Slavic Spring here in Russia, if I have anything to do with it."

Updated at 11:40 a.m. ET: Russia's Foreign Ministry dismisses U.S. criticism of its parliamentary election as "unacceptable," Reuters reports.

Updated at 11:35 a.m. ET: Reuters reports that police have arrested 100 people in central Moscow. Anti-government protesters chant "Russia without Putin!" and "Freedom!," while pro-government demonstrators try to drown them out with "Russia, Putin!" 

Updated at 11:30 a.m. ET: Anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny is sentenced to 15 days in jail for his role in a protest in Moscow Monday, when about 300 people were arrested, Reuters reports.

"There is not a single doubt that my case is under the special control of the party of crooks and thieves," Navalny tells reporters in a courtroom ahead of being charged, referring to the term he uses to describe Putin's United Russia party.

Updated at 11:15 a.m. ET: At least 50 people have been arrested in Moscow amid clashes between police and protesters angry over alleged voter fraud in Russia's parliamentary elections, according to Russia Today. Opposition leaders and well-known bloggers are reportedly among those detained.

Russia Today says that reports on Twitter from people at the scene say there are about 5,000 opposition supporters, 2,000 pro-government youth group members and 1,000 police.

Updated at 11:05 a.m. ET: Russia Today reports a "large group of people" being arrested. It says the riot police presence, backed by water cannon, is "definitely noticeable" in Triumphal Square.

Pro-government supporters are trying to upstage the protest, Russia Today says.

Updated at 11 a.m. ET: The Associated Press reports that hundreds of police had blocked off Triumphal Square, then they began chasing a demonstrators, seizing some and throwing them harshly into police vehicles.

Interfax news agency reports that among the detained was Boris Nemtsov, a leader of the liberal opposition.

Updated at 10:45 a.m. ET: Clashes break out in Moscow between police and people protesting against alleged voting fraud, the Associated Press reports.

Updated at 10:20 a.m. ET: Thousands of police and Interior Ministry troops patrolled central Moscow on Tuesday, an apparent attempt to deter any further protests a day after a rally against vote fraud and corruption caught Russian authorities by surprise.

Late Monday, thousands marched chanting "Russia without Putin!"

On Tuesday evening, hundreds of police cordoned off Triumphal Square, adjacent to the capital's main boulevard, after reports that anti-Putin demonstrators would try to gather there. Hundreds of young men, some wearing emblems of the Young Guards, United Russia's youth wing, also were seen at the square. Police also cordoned off a monument to the 1905 Revolution.

Published at 9 a.m. ET:  An aide to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned Tuesday that police would prevent protesters staging rallies without official permission.

"The actions of those who hold unsanctioned demonstrations must be stopped," spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the day after up to 5,000 Russians protested against the result of Sunday's parliamentary election, which they said was rigged.

Demonstrators at Monday's rally railed against alleged electoral fraud and demanded an end to Putin's rule.

They planned a new protest to press their demands on Tuesday evening, despite the lack of permission from the authorities. Security forces beefed up their presence across the capital in an apparent anticipation of more demonstrations.

PhotoBlog: Post-election protests in Russia 

About 300 people were detained in Monday's rally and police issued a statement on Tuesday saying they would not permit any "provocations" -- a clear warning to the protesters.

'We are not going to stop'
A Moscow court sentenced Ilya Yashin, one of the organizers on Monday's rally, to 15 days in detention. "Of course we will continue protesting," he later told reporters.

"This is no doubt a political decision aimed at intimidating me and my colleagues. We are not going to stop our struggle," he said, adding that his verdict could "arouse even bigger discontent among the people."

Meanwhile, Putin said Tuesday that he was satisfied with the performance of his United Russia party, which lost a significant number of seats and won only a slim majority in parliament. But Sunday's vote points to a change of mood in Russia after years of domination by the former KGB spy and his party, which no longer has quite such an air of invulnerability.

Putin said that a drop in support is "inevitable" for any ruling party.

United Russia won about 50 percent of Sunday's vote, a result that opposition politicians and election monitors said was inflated because of ballot-box stuffing and other vote fraud. It was a significant drop from the 2007 election when the party took 64 percent, gaining a two-thirds majority that allowed it to change the constitution. But Putin said the party had retained a "stable" majority.

"Yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable," he said. "They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country."

He promised a reshuffle next year.

"There will be a significant renewal of personnel in the government," Putin told members of his United Russia party.

It was a first overt sign of concern in the upper echelons of power over the election, which loosened United Russia's grip on the State Duma lower house and signaled growing weariness with Putin's 12-year rule, economic problems and corruption.

Clinton calls for probe
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reiterated U.S. suggestions that the election was neither free nor fair after the opposition complained that vote-rigging had inflated support for United Russia.

"Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation," she added.

Konstantin Kosachev, a senior United Russia member who headed the foreign affairs committee in the outgoing parliament, described Clinton's statement as "one of the darkest pages in the Russian-U.S. relations" and warned Washington against supporting the opposition.

Many Russian political experts have dismissed suggestions that Putin could face an uprising in a country that has little tradition of major street protests, despite the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and where dissent has often been crushed.

But Putin's popularity ratings, although still high, have fallen this year and he upset many Russians by saying he planned to swap jobs with President Dmitry Medvedev after the March presidential election, opening the way for him rule until 2024.

 Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.