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Opposition leader Sergei Udaltsov gestures during a court hearing in Moscow February 18, 2014. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov


MOSCOW (Reuters) - A Russian state prosecutor demanded eight-year prison sentences on Monday for two opposition leaders accused of organising mass riots against Vladimir Putin on the eve of his inauguration for a third term as president.

Sergei Udaltsov, who has been under house arrest since February 2013, and Leonid Razvozhayev are accused of coordinating the protests which turned violent on May 6, 2012. They deny organising mass riots or plotting wider unrest.

Police detained more than 400 people and several officers were hurt in clashes after the police restricted the 2012 rally to Bolotnaya Square, across the river from the Kremlin. Seven people were jailed in February over the protests

Kremlin critics accuse police of starting the violence to discredit the opposition after a wave of protests before Putin's return to the Kremlin after four years as prime minister.

Putin also faces accusations of using a pliant judiciary to clamp down on his opponents. He denies interfering in court cases but says anyone who attacks police should be punished.

In his third spell as president, following two successive terms from 2000 until 2008, Putin has adopted an increasingly conservative stance to consolidate his public support.

His popularity ratings have risen to a high of 86 percent, according to the independent polling agency Levada, since the annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

(Reporting by Alexei Anishchuk, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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