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Putin defends parliamentary election result
Prime Minister Vladimir Putin says results of Russian vote reflected the people's will
By The Associated Press

MOSCOW (AP) ' Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Thursday the results of Russia's parliamentary election reflected the people's will, and that the opposition had alleged vote fraud purely to strengthen its position.

"The results of this election undoubtedly reflect the real balance of power in the country," he said, speaking in a national call-in TV show. "It's very good that United Russia has preserved its leading position."

He added that a drop in support for his party was a natural result of the global financial crisis of 2008 that has taken its toll on the country.

United Russia lost about 20 percent of its seats in the election and no longer has the two-thirds majority that allowed it to change constitution at will in the previous parliament. It barely retained a majority in the State Duma, and opposition parties and some vote monitors said that even that result was inflated by ballot-stuffing and other violations.

Putin brushed off the vote fraud claims as part of the opposition's struggle for power, and said that any complaints should go to the courts. He alleged that some of the protest leaders have been acting at Western behest to weaken Russia.

"The opposition goal's is to fight for power, and it's looking for every chance to advance," he said, insisting that the vote results genuinely reflected the people's will.

Putin also sought a positive spin on last weekend's protest against vote fraud, that drew tens of thousands in the greatest challenge to his dozen years in power, saying he was glad to see a rise in public activity as a result of his rule.

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.

He sought to counter public discontent with the alleged fraud on Thursday by proposing to place web cameras at each of Russia's more than 90,000 polling stations by the March 4 presidential vote.

"Let them be there next to every ballot box to avoid any falsifications," he said.

The opposition is calling for an annulment of the Dec. 4 parliamentary election, and the holding of a new vote. Putin's insistence that the election was valid indicates no immediate resolution to the political tensions is in sight.

The opposition has been energized by the huge turnout at the Moscow protest and simultaneous rallies in some 60 other cities. It has also sensed new weakness in United Russia that has also dented Putin's power.

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