Tens of thousands of Muscovites thronged to a square across the river from the Kremlin today to protest alleged electoral fraud and urge an end to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's rule. The demands were repeated at other rallies across the country in the largest public show of discontent in post-Soviet Russia. The demonstrations come three months before Putin, who was president in 2000-2008 and effectively remained the country's leader while prime minister, is to seek a third presidential term.
The massive outpouring of public anger challenges his image, supported by state-controlled TV channels, as a man backed by the majority of Russians. That image was undercut by last Sunday's parliamentary elections, during which his United Party narrowly retained a majority of seats, but lost the unassailable two-thirds majority it had held in the previous parliament. The opposition says even that reduced performance was unearned, inflated by massive vote fraud. (Earlier this week, Putin blamed Hillary Clinton for fueling the post-election unrest.)