03/05/2012, 00.00
RUSSIA

Putin returns to Kremlin, opposition returns to streets

Nina Achmatova
The former KGB agent wins the presidential election with 64% of the vote but has great challenges ahead: Demands for democratic reforms and the spectre of economic crisis.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - Vladimir Putin's victory in the first round of the Russian presidential elections did not surprise anyone. But the vast number of complaints of fraud recorded by independent observers and international suspicions have erased the last hope of the opposition to find a path of political dialogue with Moscow. The situation is likely to become radicalized, with the movement "for honest elections" taking to the streets tonight with an unpredictable outcome.

In front of 100 thousand fans gathered under the walls of the Kremlin, the former KGB spy was celebrated last night, on his third return to the Kremlin. With 64% of the vote, he beat off four rivals, who were harmless from the outset. "I promised to win, and we won in an open and honest fight," he told the crowd that cheered him, going up on stage along with the outgoing President Dimitri Medvedev. Photos showed him with the tears on his face, but few believe they were real. It 'was the fault of the wind, he explained a little later.

The result of the vote is being passed as a victory over the enemies of the state, namely the opposition who have been calling for reform and political change. "Our people are able to distinguish between the desire for renewal and attempts to organize political provocation to destroy the state system and usurp power," he said from the stage set up under the walls of the Kremlin.

Putin has won but he is far from easy with the opposition monitors NGO Golos who reported an actual fraud strategy based on so-called "carousel voting": groups of people brought to vote more than once in a station other than the one assigned.

Tsar Putin returns, but with great challenges ahead of him; a part of the country, the most dynamic and growing, pushing for democratic reforms, intolerant of corruption, censorship and bureaucracy. There are also fears of an economic paralysis in the country that, after experiencing a boom, has also begun to slow due to the ongoing crisis in Europe, its largest export market.

Putin's responses will also effect the evolution of the protests due to take to the streets of Pushinskaja later today. His triumph was a blow to the opposition. "We were expecting fraud, but not so blatant and or large-scale," said Alexei Navalny, the blogger and protest leader. "This shows that the authroities are not going to respond to our requests in a civilized manner," said Denis Bilunov, of the movement Solidarnost. "Putin could win without cheating - he continued - but he needed a test of strength and could not afford a second round, so he has humiliated us with this farce."

Tonight authorities have authorized a gathering of up to 10 thousand people, but organizers are confident that far more people will hasten to Moscow to protest against elections deemed "illegitimate" and a president already being termed an "usurper" on the web.

The central government knows that tensions could erupt at any moment. In an attempt to cool the atmosphere, the Kremlin, in the aftermath of the presidential elections, announced the review of the case of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, one of political prisoners. Will Putin III be open to reforms, seeking a compromise with a country completely different from when he took power in 2000, or empty promises and repression? Many believe this question may be answered as soon as tonight on the streets Pushkinskaja.

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