Protests erupt in Russia

Brussels

In Russia, unrest sparked by a recent election thought by many to be rigged has led to massive protests, in which thousands of Russian citizens have assembled against the nation’s leadership.

A human rights group set up by the Russian president, meanwhile, has called for snap elections.

The Kremlin’s rights panel also called for the resignation of the election chief on Saturday in a statement about what it called “discredited” polls that have sparked mass demonstrations.

Recommendations by the panel – which advises Medvedev on rights and social issues – are not binding but will add to pressure on the authorities for radical changes in the wake of the polls.

It said that there was “mass distrust of the poll results” which showed significantly diminished support for Vladimir Putin’s United Russia party, but still gave it a majority in parliament.

The Kremlin panel added that new election laws should be put in place “with the aim of then calling snap elections” to replace the current parliament that met for its first session on Wednesday.

“Numerous reports of ballot stuffing, re-writing of protocols of ballot results, an unjustified removal of observers and journalists [from polling stations], a ban on photography and video recording and other violations of electoral rights as well as inexplicable paradoxes of electoral statistics lead to mass distrust of the poll results,” the panel’s statement said.

Mikhail Gorbachev, who presided over the fall of the Soviet Union, is among the thousands calling for the resignation of President Vladimir Putin.

“I’m happy that I have lived to see the people waking up. This raises big hopes,” the 80-year-old Gorbachev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

He urged Putin to follow his example and give up power peacefully, saying Putin would be remembered for the positive things he did if he stepped down now. The former Soviet leader, who has grown increasingly critical of Putin, has little influence in Russia today.

Photo: In Brussels today, a group showed solidarity with the Russian protestors, holding up signs calling for fair elections. Creative Commons/Flickr user Max Mayorov

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