Russia's Putin shrugs off election protests

MOSCOW -- Russian president-elect Vladimir Putin shrugged off the forceful removal and mass arrest of opponents protesting against his re-election Tuesday, dismissing them as sore losers who need to accept the result of Sunday's poll.

The arrest of more than 250 protesters in Moscow and around 300 in St. Petersburg on Monday took the gloss of an otherwise emphatic victory for Putin, who polled 64 percent of the vote nationwide according to official figures.

The result was accepted as valid by governments across the world, despite extensive violations reported by domestic and international monitors.

Only one of Putin's opponents on the ballot, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov, refused to accept the election as valid.

"Of course there were irregularities," the news agency Interfax reported Putin as saying to an audience of lawyers in Moscow on Tuesday. "They must all be weeded out and explained so that everybody understands everything."

He dismissed the protests as "an element of the political struggle ... that is not related to the elections."

Speakers at Monday night's rally at Moscow's Pushkinskaya Square took a very different line, with anti-corruption blogger Alexey Navalnyi explicitly accusing Putin and his supporters of stealing the elections.

Navalnyi was one of the people who deliberately stayed in the square after the scheduled end of the meeting, leading to his arrest and almost immediate subsequent release.

A large police presence removed Navalny and others defying the time limit on the protest, causing the US ambassador to Russia, Michael McFaul, to tweet, "Troubling to watch arrests of peaceful demonstrators at Pushkin square. Freedom of assembly and freedom of speech are universal values."

That prompted a tart reply from Russia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which said that the police's action had been "many times more humane than what we saw with the dispersal of 'Occupy Wall Street' and the tent camps in Europe."

By Tuesday, all of those who had been arrested were released.

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