Russian opposition boycotts House

MOSCOW: Three Russian opposition parties, including those seen to be pro-Kremlin, staged an unprecedented walkout of Wednesday's session of the lower house of parliament to protest fraud in local elections.

A total of 135 deputies in the 450-seat Duma were part of the protest, including the Communists, the far-right wing Liberal Democratic Party and the Just Russia party.

Russia's beleaguered opposition alleged widespread fraud as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's dominant United Russia party tightened its grip on politics with a sweeping victory in the weekend's local elections.

"We do not recognise the nationwide election results and demand a recount at every polling station," said Vladimir Zhirinovsky, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party.

"United Russia fraudulently appropriated the Liberal Democratic Party's votes," he added furiously. "We will not sit in one room with fraudsters. We are leaving the room!"

Opposition lawmakers insisted they would not return to work until they could voice their protests in a meeting with President Dmitry Medvedev.

"We insist on a meeting with the president as a guarantor of the constitution and the constitutional rights of citizens," Zyuganov told journalists after the walkout.

He also called for the resignation of the head of the Central Electoral Commission, Vladimir Churov.

Not to be outdone, Just Russia party -- widely seen as a Kremlin project to capture votes from the opposition -- also joined the walkout, leaving the session some 30 minutes later.

Just Russia leader Sergei Mironov said in a statement that the walkout was a "desperate attempt to call to dialogue those who don't want to hear a different view."

United Russia holds the majority of the seats in the Duma, where the liberal opposition is absent after failing to capture sufficient votes in the last parliamentary polls.

The walkout was unprecedented in the recent history of the Russian politics since United Russia in 2003 elections gained a stranglehold on parliament it has held ever since.

In the 1999-2003 parliament which was marked by frequent bickering, the majority was held by the Communists with both the pro-Kremlin party and liberals well-represented.

The speaker Boris Gryzlov, a top United Russia official, criticised the protest.

"A feeling of responsibility for one's electorate should prevail over emotions. The elections have already happened, and populist protests are pointless," he told journalists, Russian news agencies reported.

Zhirinovsky and Zyuganov held a joint press conference at which they announced plans to hold street protests.

"Until we raise a mass protest, it will be impossible to correct the situation," Zyuganov said, while Zhirinovsky announced plans for pickets and demonstrations with the slogan "for democracy, for free elections," Interfax reported.

Fraud at the polls was so widespread that it can no longer be overlooked even by parties loyal to the Kremlin, Moscow-based analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told AFP.

"The fact that there is a solidarity now between these parties is important political news; it means that the level of what is acceptable been surpassed," Oreshkin said.

"For the first time at a federal level we see an attempt not simply to limit competition but to establish a total political monopoly," opposition campaigner Vladimir Milov wrote in the Vedomosti newspaper.