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Russian police, protesters clash for 3rd night

Police in St. Petersburg, Russia, detain an opposition activist during a Wednesday protest against recent election results.
Police in St. Petersburg, Russia, detain an opposition activist during a Wednesday protest against recent election results.Alexander Demianchuk/Reuters

Police in Russia's two largest cities arrested scores of demonstrators Wednesday in a third straight night of protests against alleged election fraud by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

The demonstrations in Moscow and St. Petersburg appeared to attract fewer protesters than in previous days, roughly 300 in each city, but Russians' willingness to risk jail time and clashes with police indicates significant anger.

Russian police, who gave a show of force Wednesday, have detained more than 1,000 people since Monday.

Hundreds of helmeted riot police blocked off a Moscow square after nightfall Wednesday, pushing back reporters and shouting through loudspeakers: "Respected citizens, please do not stop, walk on your way so as not to hinder others."

Three youths emerged near a subway station entrance, chanting: "We want free elections!." Riot police marched them off to one of the dozens of police buses and truck that lined the streets nearby.

In St. Petersburg, about 250 people protested, most of them youngsters, shouting "Shame!" Police detained about 70.

Kremlin opponents are trying to maintain momentum after 5,000 people turned out on Monday night for the largest opposition protest in Moscow in years, demanding fair elections and chanting "Russia without Putin!."

Police and Putin's spokesman have said unapproved protests will be stopped. The Interior Ministry said some 50,000 officers and 2,000 ministry troops remained in Moscow after the election.

A test of the drive to pressure Putin with street protests will come on Saturday, when opponents hope for a big turnout at a rally near the Kremlin.

Two protest leaders arrested after Monday's rally will still be in jail then. A judge on Wednesday rejected appeals filed by Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin against the 15-day jail terms they received the previous day.

Putin undaunted

Monday's protest, fanned by fraud accusations that spread on the Internet, underscored anger at United Russia and unhappiness among some Russians at the prospect of Putin's almost certain return to the Kremlin in a March presidential vote.

Voters bruised Putin in Sunday's election by sharply reducing his party's majority in the State Duma lower house.

Undeterred, Putin filed candidacy papers for the March 4 presidential vote, submitting the documents in a brief, nearly silent visit to the Central Election Commission headquarters.

Registration as a candidate is a formal step towards what could be another 12 years in the top job for Putin, 59, who was president from 2000 to 2008 and is now prime minister but remains Russia's paramount leader.

Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev has urged Russian authorities to annul the results of Sunday's vote and hold a new one. He says "ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities and destabilizes the situation."

This story includes reporting from Reuters and The Associated Press.

Related stories:

Mikhail Gorbachev: Annul Russian election results, hold new vote

Social media make anti-Putin protests 'snowball' 

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

Moscow official: I helped rig Russian election

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