HUNDREDS of people demanded an end to Vladimir Putin's 12-year rule in violent protests in Russia's two largest cities yesterday despite a crackdown by riot police and spoiling tactics by pro-Kremlin youth.
Police said they had detained more than 400 people in St Petersburg and Moscow as the protesters, emboldened by the prime minister's biggest election setback since he took power, tried to stage mass protests for the second successive day.
But police prevented many joining the Moscow rally and hundreds of pro-Putin youths in blue anoraks tried to spoil it, shouting "The people! Putin" to drown out their chants of "Russia without Putin" and "We want free elections!"
Boris Nemtsov, a liberal opposition leader, told Reuters he had been detained. Two opposition figures, blogger Alexei Navalny and Ilya Yashin, were jailed for 15 days for their role in Monday's opposition protest, the biggest in Moscow for years.
Despite his sentence, and the fall in attendance at Tuesday's rally in Moscow, Mr Yashin said: "We are not going to stop our struggle."
The protests are a further sign of pressure on Mr Putin to make changes after his United Russia lost ground in a parliamentary election on Sunday, even though European monitors and the opposition said it was slanted in the ruling party's favour.
The election outcome highlighted growing unease with the 59-year-old leader as he plans to reclaim the presidency next year and pointed to a mood shift after years of political domination by the former KGB spy who has brooked little dissent and marginalised the liberal opposition.
"We want fair elections. Look at what they have done to our country, our Russia," said a man who gave his name only as Alexei as he was detained by riot police in Moscow.
"We pay your wages," he screamed as they threw him into a bus.
But Maxim Mishenko (34) said he did not want Russia to follow the same violent path as Libya and Syria.
"I don't want the same thing to happen here as in Libya or Syria.
There will be no Slavic Spring here in Russia if I have anything to do with it," he said.
US Republican senator John McCain said Russia could now face a revolt. In a message to Mr Putin on Twitter, he wrote: "Dear Vlad, the Arab Spring is coming to a neighborhood near you."
But many Russian political experts have dismissed suggestions that Mr Putin could face an uprising in a country which has little tradition of major street protests, despite the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, and where dissent has often been crushed.
Mr Putin's popularity ratings, although still high, have fallen this year and he upset many Russians by saying he planned to swap jobs with president Dmitry Medvedev after the presidential election, opening the way for him rule until 2024.
Mr Putin ceded the presidency to Mr Medvedev in 2008 because of a constitutional ban on three successive presidential terms.