ASTRAKHAN - More than 2,000 Russians took to the streets of the southern city of Astrakhan on Saturday to protest against President-elect Vladimir Putin's political system, complaining of electoral fraud in a recent mayoral vote there.

Oleg Shein, Astrakhan's defeated mayoral candidate, began a hunger strike last month along with some of his supporters, saying the election had been rigged in favor of his rival from the ruling United Russia party.

On Saturday, Shein, a member of the A Just Russia party, addressed a crowd, many of whom wore white ribbons, a symbol of a protest movement which began in Moscow last year after accusations of voting fraud in a parliamentary election. A Reuters reporter on the scene estimated that more than 2,000 men and women had turned up.

"Today Astrakhan has united the hearts of all those people who want to live freely, who don't want to be a slave and want to have a dignified life in the great country called Russia," said Shein, looking emaciated.

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