Riot police break up opposition protest contesting Putin's victory in Russia

03/05/12 wire services including AP
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Riot police broke up an opposition protest contesting Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's victory in Russia's presidential election. They arrested dozens of participants, including prominent opposition leaders.

The police action followed a rally in downtown Moscow, which drew about 20,000.

The big rally went on peacefully, but police violently dispersed several hundred protesters who attempted to stay on Pushkin Square.

Hundreds of police in full riot gear moved to push the demonstrators away from the square and rounded up scores, including several protest leaders.

Putin won more than 63 percent of the vote according to the nearly complete official returns, but the opposition says the election was marred by massive fraud.

Tonino Picula, head of the international election observer mission, says there were issues in the election.

International election monitors pointed at the lack of real competition in the race and said the vote count "was assessed negatively" in almost a third of polling stations observers visited.

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