Russians began voting in regional elections yesterday that Kremlin-loyal candidates are set to dominate, as police detained dozens of supporters of a jailed opposition leader who called for protests over pension reforms.
The move has seen Putin's approval rating drop by 15% and "unlike protests against corruption organised by Navalny, which have rallied mostly young people, the pension protests have brought older Russians, often seen as Mr Putin's base, into the streets", says the New York Times.
Rallies that appeared to attract hundreds of people were reported in Siberia and the Far East. News reports and tallies from the OVD-Info organisation that monitors political repressions showed at least 40 arrests connected with the protests, including 12 each in the cities of Khabarovsk and Tomsk.
The OVD-Info group, which tracks police detentions and posts the names of the detainees on its website, said Monday that 1,018 people were detained, almost half of them in St. Petersburg. A total of 452 people were detained there, while in Moscow, 43 people were held after authorities had denied an application to hold a rally, the group said.More news: Florence becomes a hurricane, takes aim at US Southeast
The demonstrations were called to protest changes to the pension retirement ages that were hiked from 55 years for women and 60 for men to 63 and 65 respectively.
The issue has galvanized citizens and initially hurt the popularity of President Vladimir Putin, who in August sought to quell the discontent by suggesting amendments to dilute the proposal.
On Monday, several activists tried to launch another protest in a tree-lined boulevard in central Moscow but they were quickly rounded up by police. Photos on social media indicated majority were attended by 100 or more protesters, but the crowd in St. Petersburg appeared to exceed 1,000.
However, United Russia lost the first place to the Communist Party in the republic of Khakasia and Irkutsk and Ulyanovsk oblasts. Opinion polls put Navalny's support in the single digits, but backers note he won nearly a third of the vote in a 2013 Moscow mayoral race, and believe he could give Putin a run for his money if ever allowed to run against him on a level playing field. At the same time, there were journalists among the detainees in Yekaterinburg. The current life-expectancy for Russian men is 66.
Two independent liberal candidates were not allowed to run against him, while his four registered opponents are virtual unknowns.