Several thousand supporters of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny rallied Monday in central Moscow as he disputed the results of mayoral polls in which he narrowly failed to push a Kremlin ally into a run-off, claiming fraud.
Around 10,000 people gathered for a peaceful rally in the city centre after the Moscow election commission released the final tally showing that an ally of President Vladimir Putin, incumbent mayor Sergei Sobyanin, had scraped through in the first round with 51.3 percent of the vote.
In a major surprise, Navalny, a charismatic 37-year-old leader of the opposition movement who campaigned under the shadow of a controversial conviction for embezzlement, polled far more strongly than projected with over 27.2 percent.
"At these elections, politics was finally born in Russia. The opposition was born. We know for sure what to do, we know for sure how to do it," he told a cheering crowd.
Yet Navalny contended that the results were falsified and urged the authorities to hold a recount that he said would lead to a second-round runoff.
Th rally took place on a central Moscow square, which was the focal point of huge anti-Putin protests in the winter of 2011-12 that saw Naalny become the star speaker.
Dmitry Yagodkin, 42, said he turned up for the rally because he believed the authorities had manipulated the results.
"I believe that our votes have been stolen, a second round is essential," he said.
"A second round would be a victory," said Alexander Koidan, a 21-year-old law student.
Detective novelist Boris Akunin called on Sobyanin to come out to the protesters and explain himself.
"Like many people, I have a lot of suspicions about the results of the Moscow elections," he said at the rally, interviewed by TV Rain.
The Moscow authorities had given Navalny permission to hold a rally of no more than 2,500 people.
On Monday evening, police said more than 9,000 people had gathered and Navalny's campaign said they had been fined for breaching the limit.
Navalny warned supporters not to stage any illegal protests following the rally after the prosecutor-general's office gave him an official warning over his calls for "civil disobedience".
"I don't plan to let you down or put you in danger," he said.
byanin had polled less than 50 percent.
Voter turnout in the mayoral race stood at a meagre 32 percent, which appeared to have helped Navalny, with the protest leader far more successful in bringing out core support than Sobyanin's low-key push for votes.