Russian protest leaders held as Putin, Medvedev swap
MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian police on Tuesday detained two opposition leaders for staging an overnight sit-in against Vladimir Putin's return to the Kremlin for a six-year term that has sparked a new wave of protests against the country's rulers.
Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, two of the most charismatic organizers of protests that have shaken Putin's authority, were among several hundred demonstrators who spent the night in a park near the Kremlin administration offices.
The protesters also criticized a job swap between Russia's two top leaders that will be completed when former president Dmitry Medvedev is confirmed as the new prime minister later on Tuesday by the State Duma, the lower house of parliament.
Many Russians say the swap, announced last September, shows how Putin has stripped them of any say in politics and it helped prompt the biggest opposition protests of Putin's 12-year domination of Russia.
"Everything as always has been decided without consulting the people ... People don't like this," said Ilya Ponamaryov, another opposition leader at the protest.
Police detained the two other leaders before daybreak, along with a few other protesters. The crowd of about 200 people shouted "Shame!"
The Duma, in which Putin and Medvedev's United Russia party are the biggest force, was due to meet at 3 p.m. (1100 GMT) to rubber-stamp Putin's nomination of his long-term ally.
Riot police clashed with protesters in Moscow on Sunday and detained more than 400, including anti-corruption blogger Navalny and left-wing leader Udaltsov, who were released on Monday after courts fined them 1,000 roubles ($33) apiece.
While Putin was being sworn in on Monday, police cleared central Moscow streets and confronted groups of peaceful protesters several times, detaining 300 more.
PUTIN GETS TO WORK
Although he remained Russia's dominant leader as prime minister, Putin has now taken back the formal reins of power he ceded to Medvedev in 2008, when he faced a bar on a third straight term after eight years as president.
Putin, 59, has not ruled out seeking another six-year term in 2018. He set long-term goals in a flurry of decrees signed in the hours after he was sworn in an ornate Tsarist-era throne room with his right hand on the constitution.
But his authority has been undermined by allegations of fraud in a December parliamentary vote won by his United Russia party, and his return has angered many Russians two decades after the Soviet Union's collapse.
Putin called for unity and pledged to strengthen democracy in his inaugural address, but the 11 decrees he issued on the first day of his third term included no political reforms.
"We will achieve our goals if we are a single, united people, if we hold our fatherland dear, strengthen Russian democracy, constitutional rights and freedoms," he said.
($1 = 30.0100 Russian roubles)