MOSCOW // Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union, said Russia should annul the results of the weekend's disputed legislative elections won by Vladimir Putin's ruling party and call new polls.
The pro-Kremlin United Russia party won less than 50 per cent of the vote, a steep fall from its earlier majority, according to preliminary results. But opposition parties and international observers said the vote was marred by widespread reports of rigging.
Thousands of Russians rallied this week in Moscow and St Petersburg, facing off against police and Interior Ministry troops. Hundreds were beaten and detained.
"The country's leaders have to admit that there were numerous falsifications and rigging and the results do not reflect the will of the people," he told the Interfax news agency.
"Therefore I think they can only take one decision — annul the results of the election and hold new ones.
"With every passing day literally more and more Russians do not believe that the announced results of the elections are honest.
"And, in my opinion, ignoring public opinion discredits the authorities and destabilises the situation."
Mr Gorbachev's perestroika and glasnost reforms of the 1980s altered the course of history by speeding up the collapse of the Soviet Union and liberating eastern Europe.
The ex-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has regularly criticised Mr Putin in the past, is admired in the West but commands little respect among ordinary Russians.