There was tension on the streets of Astrakhan in Russia’s biggest post election protest outside Moscow. Anti-Putin demonstrators marched in support of hunger striker Oleg Shein, one-time mayoral candidate who is alleging fraud in the March 4 poll. Shein who has been without food for more than four weeks has become a symbol of defiance.
“Today Astrakhan has united the hearts of all those people who want to live in freedom, who don’t want to be slaves, who want to live a dignified life in the great country called Russia!,” he told the rally.
Clashes broke out between the police and protesters. In what some experts say is a sign of fraud Shein won by a comfortable margin at most polling stations where automated ballot boxes were installed.
Official results gave about 60 percent of the vote to Putin’s United Russia candidate Mikhail Stolyarov. His supporters had held a separate demonstration hours before the opposition had taken to the streets. Both sides are standing their ground.
Elected Astrakhan mayor, Mikhail Stolyarov told his supporters: “Scandals will not build or repair roads. Scandals will not make education system or healthcare better, will not build kindergartens, will not make municipal services better.”
Shein has already said he will not stop his hunger strike in his campaign for new elections. The regional governor has refused the call for a new ballot.
There was also a demonstration in a central Moscow square in support of Shein.