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Putin defends poll result

- ‘Protesters trying to weaken Russia on orders of West’

Moscow, Dec. 15 (AP): Prime Minister Vladimir Putin today accused the organisers of massive protests against vote fraud of working to weaken Russia at the West’s behest and rejected calls for a rerun of the parliamentary election.

In blustery remarks likely to further fuel anger against his 12-year rule, Putin insisted that the December 4 parliamentary election, which drew allegations of fraud and triggered the largest protests in Russia in 20 years, was a genuine reflection of the people’s will.

He sought to put a positive spin on the protests that dented his power and threatened his bid to reclaim presidency in next March’s vote, saying they reflected a rise in public activity that he welcomes.

But in a characteristic move, he accused protest organisers of working to destabilise the country on orders from the West.

“That’s a well-organised pattern of destabilising society,” Putin said in a call-in TV show.

Last week, Putin dismissed criticism of the vote by secretary of state Hillary Clinton as part of US efforts to weaken Russia. “They still fear our nuclear potential,” he said. “We also carry an independent foreign policy, and, of course, it’s an impediment for some.”

Previous editions of the annual national call-in show have been largely an opportunity for Putin to brag for hours about improvements in the country, but this one was unusually confrontational. Both callers and studio participants repeatedly raised questions about the election, the anti-fraud protests and the country’s repression of opposition groupings.

In the vote, Putin’s United Russia party lost about 20 per cent of its seats in the election and no longer has the two-thirds majority that allowed it to change the Constitution at will in the previous Parliament. It barely retained a majority in the State Duma, and Opposition parties and some vote monitors said even that result was inflated by ballot-stuffing and other violations.

The Opposition is calling for the parliamentary election to be annulled and re-run. Putin’s insistence that the election was valid indicates no immediate resolution to Russia’s political tensions is in sight.

The unprecedented wave of protest poses a significant challenge to Putin less than three months before presidential elections in which he seeks to return to the Kremlin.

Putin alleged the organisers of Saturday’s demonstration by tens of thousands in Moscow had paid some participants, calling them sheep.