Moscow protest against Putin win sees drop in support

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Protests have been held in Russia over Vladimir Putin's presidential election victory but turnout in Moscow was sharply down on earlier rallies.

Between 10,000 and 20,000 people lined an avenue near the Kremlin, compared to crowds of 100,000 in December.

Demonstrators heard calls not to recognise Mr Putin's re-election because of alleged widespread fraud.

Foreign states have accepted Mr Putin's election but observers said the poll had been skewed in his favour.

The BBC's Richard Galpin in Moscow says some opposition leaders had played down expectations of the turnout on Saturday, partly because their movement had failed to stop Mr Putin securing a third term in office.

Big numbers gone

Police in riot gear made a number of arrests in Moscow, detaining veteran left-wing activist Sergei Udaltsov among others.

The Moscow protest took place on Novy Arbat, a wide avenue in the city centre lined by 1960s skyscrapers.

Dozens of police and military vehicles were stationed on nearby streets.

The city authorities had given permission for a rally of up to 50,000 people but actual turnout was as low as 10,000, according to police, while the opposition gave much higher figures.

"My estimate - after seeing our high shot - is that between 10 and 20 thousand people were at today's Moscow protest - big numbers have gone," the BBC's Moscow correspondent, Daniel Sandford said in a message on Twitter.

On a cold but sunny Moscow day, demonstrators waved banners and wore white ribbons - the symbol of the protest movement.

One of the protest's organisers, Vladimir Ryzhkov, told the crowd: "These authorities are illegitimate. The same people are in power, the same people who took away our right to choose, the same people who destroyed freedom of speech and political competition.

"We will continue to demand deep political reforms and new elections."

Mr Udaltsov called for a million-strong march to take place in Moscow in May, a week before Mr Putin's inauguration.

The man seen by many as the driving force behind the protests, anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny, attended the rally as a spectator, not a speaker as on previous occasions.

Other, smaller protest rallies took place in St Petersburg and Yekaterinburg.

Mr Putin was re-elected for six years, having served two previous terms as president between 2000 and 2008.

On Friday, US President Barack Obama called Mr Putin from Air Force One "to congratulate him on his recent victory", a White House statement said.

Mr Obama said he looked forward to hosting Mr Putin at the G8 Summit in May at Camp David.