Russian to end hunger strike over mayoral vote

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 23, 2012 2:30 PM
Russian to end hunger strike over mayoral vote

By Steve Gutterman

MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian politician whose hunger strike drew attention to allegations of electoral fraud in a mayoral vote announced plans on Monday to end his protest on its 40th day, saying he had achieved his goals.

Oleg Shein, a former national parliament member, stopped eating on March 16 to protest results showing he lost the election in the southern city of Astrakhan to a candidate from President-elect Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

Shein's strike, which will end on Tuesday, has become a focus for the Moscow-based political opposition as it seeks to breathe life into protests after Putin's March 4 election to the presidency and chip away at his power base in local contests.

In a sign the Kremlin felt pressure from Shein's strike and his allegations, Russia's chief election official last week watched hours of web camera footage from polling places - some of it during an all-night viewing session with Shein in Moscow.

The election chief, Vladimir Churov, acknowledged the videos revealed procedural violations at a majority of the polling places but said he saw no evidence of fraud that would affect the result.

Shein had initially called for authorities to throw out the official results of the March 4 vote, but on Monday he cast Churov's admission as a victory and expressed hope a lawsuit he filed would result in a new election.

"I have already written that the hunger strike achieved its aims," Shein, 40, said in a blog late on Monday.

"On Friday we heard the verdicts against the thieves and fraudsters of Astrakhan from the mouth of Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov, who said the law was broke in 129 of 203 polling stations," he wrote.

He also said that most of the people who were detained in Astrakhan during protests in support of his strike had been released, another goal he added more recently.

Shein said about 30 supporters would also end their hunger strikes and that he would end his on Tuesday, when three people still held by police after being detained are due to be released.

"I want to say a huge thanks to all those who have helped and are helping us," said Shein, who added that he had lost 14 kg (31 lbs) during the strike and now weighed 64 kg (141 lbs).

Shein has not blamed Putin directly for the official outcome of the vote but his plight put Putin in the spotlight when members of Shein's party, Just Russia, walked out of parliament in protest after Putin deflected a question about the strike.

Putin, president from 2000-2008 and now prime minister, starts a six-year presidential term on May 7.

His comfortable election win showed he remains popular but his United Russia party has been weakened in a series of votes in the past two years and street protests over the winter damaged his aura of invincibility.