Crowds pack the streets of Russia in protest of the country's parliamentary elections on Tuesday. Msnbc.com's Dara Brown reports.
MOSCOW - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev urged Russian authorities to annul the results of the scandal-marred parliamentary election and hold a new vote, Russia's Interfax news agency reported Wednesday.
The news came a day after thousands of Russians rallied in Moscow and St. Petersburg and faced off with police and Interior Ministry troops, who detained and arrested hundreds of protesters, including journalists.
"The country's leaders have to admit that there were numerous falsifications and rigging and the results do not reflect the will of the people," Gorbachev told Interfax, according to the AFP.
"Therefore I think they can only take one decision — annul the results of the election and hold new ones."
Thousands of security forces were out in the Russian capital and helicopters roamed the sky Wednesday in a show of force following the protests over the election that saw Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's party struggle to keep a majority.
Putin officially registered on Wednesday to run for the presidency in March, but the unusually sustained protests of the past two days showed the indignation of the Russian opposition and suggested his drive to retake the job he held from 2000-2008 may not go as smoothly as expected.
The Russian Union of Journalists on Wednesday condemned police violence and called for a probe into the dozens of attacks and arrests of journalists, describing them as "an attempt to gag and intimidate society."
More opposition rallies were expected Wednesday, along with a pro-Putin gathering in central Moscow that had attracted a few hundred people so far.
Sunday's parliamentary vote suggested Russians are tiring of Putin and his United Russia party, which has strongly overshadowed all other political forces in Russia for the past dozen years and earned a reputation for corruption.
Preliminary results indicate the party won less than 50 percent of votes, a steep fall from its earlier majority. Opposition parties and international observers said the poll was marred by widespread reports and allegations of vote-rigging.
Kirill Kudryavtsev / AFP - Getty Images
Police officers surround Russian opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, who was detained while taking part in an unauthorized rally at the Triumfalnaya Square in central Moscow late on Tuesday.
Meanwhile, Russia's foreign minister took a swipe at Secretary of State Hillary Clinton Wednesday over her criticism of the election, saying it was "not Hyde Park" where speakers could just arrive, hold forth and leave without listening to others.
Clinton, visiting Lithuania Tuesday for a meeting of security body the OSCE, cited serious concerns about the weekend election.
"This is not Hyde Park, this is not Triumfalnaya (Triumph) Square in Moscow, where speakers arrive to pour out their soul and then turn around and leave, not listening to others," Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told reporters.
He was referring to London's Hyde Park and its famed "Speakers' Corner" and to the square in Moscow that was the site of Tuesday's protest over the parliamentary election.
Lavrov said Clinton's actions showed "disrespect" to the 56-member Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), which has been holding a two-day meeting in Vilnius.
"Several of my colleagues prefer to use this tribune to complain (about issues) completely unrelated to the agenda as was the case with my colleague Hillary Clinton, who arrived, it seems, only to impress her voters in the Democratic party."
The Russian Foreign Ministry Tuesday dismissed the U.S. criticism as unacceptable and urged Moscow's ex-Cold War enemy to refrain from such "hostile attacks" in future.
Lavrov said Russia would prefer to resolve issues through a dialogue instead of using multinational meetings to vent criticism of each other.
The allegations have fired up the opposition, which has long seen its protests crushed and its pleas ignored by the Kremlin-dominated media. On Facebook, more than 10,000 people signed up to a page announcing an opposition rally for Saturday.
Authorities said Tuesday that at least 51,500 police officers and 2,000 Interior Ministry troops have been deployed in Moscow since the election. Unlike the police, Interior Ministry troops are an armed force, largely manned by conscripts.
At least 300 people were detained by police at a protest in downtown Moscow on Tuesday night that included flare-type fireworks thrown at a group of pro-Kremlin youth, said city police spokesman Maxim Kolosvetov.
Russian news agencies reported about 200 were arrested at a similar attempt to hold an unsanctioned rally in St. Petersburg and another 25 in the southern city of Rostov-on-Don. The Moscow protest ended after around 3 1/2 hours and the others were broken up by police.
Pro-Kremlin supporters put on a pair of large rallies in Moscow, attracting thousands and showing vehement divisions in Russian society. Protesters and government supporters shouted at each other, with the opposition chanting "Shame, shame" and the others, some of whom beat drums, yelling out "Putin victory."
Putin has downplayed the reduced majority, saying it was "inevitable" because voters always are unhappy with the party in power. He also dismissed allegations of corruption among his United Russia party members.
He also rejected the popular characterization of United Russia as "the party of crooks and thieves," saying corruption was a widespread problem not limited to a single party.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.
Read more content from msnbc.com and NBC News:
- Justice Dept. warns Ala. law enforcers on immigration
- We are the median: Military makes $50,000 feel like more
- NBC: Downed drone spied on Iran nuke facilities
- Activists ask: Undercover cop? Or one of us?
- A consumer's tale of a credit report 'Catch 22'
- Sandusky's dinner with alleged victims raises questions
- We are the median: Living on $50,000 a year
- Kids pay biggest price for world's gold craving