Putin braces for waves of protest
Tens of thousands of Russians prepared yesterday to hold their biggest protest yet over a contested election that has sent Moscow's relations with Washington spiralling to a three-year low.
Saturday's rally in Moscow -- sanctioned by the police after days of talks with the opposition -- is expected to draw around 30,000 people to a square across the river from the Kremlin following last weekend's legislative polls.
But the opposition is also organising rallies in at least 14 other major cities in a rare outpouring of mistrust in a system put in place by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin when he first became president in 2000.
Sunday's vote was narrowly won by Putin's ruling party but accompanied by a flood of video footage shot by ordinary Russians and posted on the Internet appearing to show ballot stuffing and other widespread manipulation.
The protests that followed have posed a surprise challenge to Putin and saw the Russian strongman on Thursday launch a lacerating attack on US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her expressions of concern.
Putin accused Hillary of deliberately sending a signal to the opposition to protest and the State Department of paying Russian groups to find fault with the elections.
The exchange between Putin and Hillary sets a tense tone to the Russian strongman's expected return to the Kremlin next year that could see him stay in power through 2024.