Clinton criticises Russian vote as 'neither free nor fair'

Wed, Dec 7, 2011, 00:00

THE US has added its voice to unusually loud domestic criticism of Russia’s general election, which resulted in troops being deployed in Moscow last night to quell protests.

Officials said up to 4,000 soldiers and police were patrolling Moscow a day after several thousand people rallied against the government of Vladimir Putin and his United Russia party, which easily won Sunday’s vote though with a sharply diminished majority.

Leading opposition activists were among some 300 people arrested during Monday night’s rally, which was Moscow’s largest anti-government protest in recent years. Police made more arrests last night as demonstrators gathered again.

US secretary of state Hillary Clinton echoed the protesters’ complaints by denouncing the conduct of the election, which international monitors said was riddled with violations aimed at skewing results in favour of United Russia.

“When authorities fail to prosecute those who attack people for exercising their rights or exposing abuses, they subvert justice and undermine the people’s confidence in their governments,” Mrs Clinton told a meeting of the 56-nation Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE). “As we have seen in many places, and most recently in the Duma elections in Russia, elections that are neither free nor fair have the same effect,” she told Europe’s largest democracy and rights watchdog, which Ireland will lead next year.

German foreign minister Guido Westerwelle, who also attended the gathering in Lithuania, said the vote showed that Russia “still has a way to go to fulfil all of the OSCE standards. We expect that there will be transparency in the follow-up to this.”

Russia’s foreign ministry said Mrs Clinton’s criticism was “unacceptable” and condemned Washington for “sticking to long-outdated stereotypes and continuing to attach labels, without even trying to work out what is happening in our electoral field”.

Mr Putin played down United Russia’s disappointing election performance and dismissed protesters’ claims that the ruling party was a den of corruption.

“Yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable. They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one that has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country.” He said claims the party was associated with theft and corruption were “a cliche related to power”.