Russian Opposition Leader Arrested after Rally


A leader of Russia's liberal opposition was arrested Saturday at a protest rally against fraud-tainted parliamentary polls as Vladimir Putin seeks a third Kremlin term in the face of attacks on his 12-year rule.

Sergei Mitrokhin, a leader of the Yabloko party which called the rally, was arrested at the end of the protest attended by some 300 people and was now facing a fine or a 15-day jail term, a party spokesman told Agence France Presse.

Another party activist, Maya Zavialova, who organized the demonstration, was also arrested because more protestors attended than the number declared to the authorities beforehand, news agencies quoted a police official as saying.

At the protest by the party whose veteran founder Grigory Yavlinsky hopes to challenge Putin in March polls, participants set up two boards featuring pictures and names of election officials they claimed were involved in falsifications during the December 4 legislative vote.

"The country should know its anti-heroes," one of the activists said as others brandished party flags and chanted "Churov resign," referring to the head of the Central Election Commission Vladimir Churov, an AFP correspondent reported.

Another placard depicted the bearded Putin ally Churov in a light blue cloak and a wizard's peaked hat, alluding to the popular nickname he earned after President Dmitry Medvedev called him a "magician" at a post-election meeting last month.

Prime Minister Putin, who is seeking to return to the Kremlin in a job swap with Medvedev, is wrestling with the worst legitimacy crisis of his rule, with tens of thousands taking to the streets last month.

A third major protest set for February 4 is expected to provide clues about the direction and strength of the nascent opposition movement.

"It is extremely important to turn up for protests, but mere protests are not enough," Mitrokhin said at the "name them, shame them" rally before his arrest, urging Russians to act as unofficial observers at the presidential election.

He was arrested for what police said was refusal to obey official instructions and taken to a police station, Yabloko spokesman Igor Yakovlev told AFP.

He said Zavialova also risked a fine after a police official said she had been arrested for an administrative infringement as some 350 people had turned up for the rally when she had told local authorities there would be 300.

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