For Dmitry Nesterenko, an entrepreneur in the restaurant business, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's overwhelming victory in the elections was a "disgusting act."
"We don't want to live in lies," he said.
The movement to change Russia's political system will continue, say many Russians, but Putin's election Sunday to a six-year presidential term has many activists wondering whether they are entering dangerous times.
It was Putin who originally disposed of the direct election of governors, and it is he who has overseen the banning of most opposition candidates from state-controlled media. Tens of thousands of demonstrators protesting alleged voting irregularities Monday were met by security forces who arrested more than 200 people. Chased by rows of riot police, demonstrators blocked traffic on Moscow's main thoroughfare chanting "Putin is a thief!" and "Revote!"
"We anticipated this. We knew we would see a constriction of our liberties," said opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov, who was among those arrested. "We have yet to see whether this will become a tendency. If we see a tightening of the screws, this will be very dangerous."
Putin, president from 2000 to 2008 before becoming prime minister because of term limits, won more than 63% of Sunday's vote, which the opposition and independent observers said was marred by massive fraud.
In the weeks leading up to the vote, Putin had become increasingly emotional, rallying supporters with a battle cry about warriors who dreamed of dying near Moscow for their country. On Tuesday, he said the fraud charges were irrelevant.
"It's an element of political struggle, it has no relation to the election," he said.
Many people seeking more democratic freedoms expressed desperation that Putin's victory will end their hopes.
"I feel this is the last rally of its kind. The format we had before, peaceful and hopeful, is on the wane," journalist Oleg Kashin said. "We will see a year of reaction, and the coming events depend on the extent of Putin's mistakes.
Putin is playing a dangerous game, he is sparking a cold civil war," Kashin said.
Opposition leaders worry that Putin is planning to crush their movement now that he has regained the presidency. They say pro-Kremlin groups were planted at Monday's rally to provoke clashes that gave police the excuse to move in and break up the demonstration.
"There were a lot of provocations on both sides. (The police) wanted these provocations; it would give them a pretext to arrest oppositionists," said Ilya Ponomarev, a deputy of Russia's lower house of Parliament and one of the protest organizers.
"The people who turned out were far more radically inclined than before. They were determined to stay to the end, to get a recount of the votes."
Monday's arrests, he said, would only make people more determined. "The government is very scared, it understands that it has no support in Moscow," Ponomarev said.
Nesterenko said he started going to protest rallies after parliamentary elections in December gave rise to charges of vote fraud. Putin's victory has made him more determined. Standing in freezing temperatures under the snow in central Moscow square, he wore a sign that said Putin had to go.
"I'm going to continue going to protest rallies," he said.
Most Popular Stories
- Stolen Cobalt-60 Recovered in Mexico
- Hezbollah Chief's Assassination Claimed by Sunni Group
- Sarmiento to Handle Greeley Latin Ops
- Allstate Seeks to Invest in Minority Firms
- First-time Jobless Claims Drop Below 300,000
- SpaceX's Satellite Launch Is 'Game-Changer'
- White House Pushes to Extend Unemployment Benefits
- Wind Power and Wildlife Can Coexist
- Latin Music Conference Turns 25
- Calif. Likes Christie, Says Tea Party's a Drag