Russia election protests: Putin plays down losses

Hundreds rally against Putin in Moscow

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has played down his party's losses at Sunday's parliamentary election as inevitable for a party in power.

Thousands of police and interior troops are on alert in Moscow, after one of the biggest opposition rallies in the city centre for years.

Police made 300 arrests as protesters chanted "Russia without Putin".

Among those held was Alexei Navalny, a top anti-corruption campaigner and fierce critic of Mr Putin.

A counter-demonstration by Putin supporters was held beside Red Square on Tuesday amid reports that opposition supporters were planning a new protest.

Observers from the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) say Sunday's election was slanted in favour of Mr Putin's party, United Russia.

United Russia won the election with just under 50% of the vote, a sharp drop in its support.

Correspondents say the result reflects Mr Putin's declining popularity ahead of his bid for the Russian presidency in March.

'Inevitable losses'

Speaking to United Russia officials in Moscow on Tuesday, Mr Putin suggested that electoral losses were inevitable for any party in power.

Start Quote

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks at a United Russia meeting in Moscow, 6 December

Yes, there were losses and they are inevitable”

End Quote Vladimir Putin Russian prime minister

"Yes, there were losses and they are inevitable," the prime minister and former two-term president said, quoted by Russian news agencies.

"They are inevitable for any political force, especially for one which, not for the first year, bears the brunt of responsibility for the situation in the country."

Mr Putin also rejected the accusation by Mr Navalny and others that his party was especially corrupt.

"This is a label applied not to a specific political party but to authorities [in general]," he said, promising to tackle the issue.

Corruption has been the chief accusation levelled against United Russia by Mr Navalny, one of the country's most influential bloggers.

Troops deployed

Little has been heard from the campaigner since his arrest though he was brought to a Moscow courthouse on Tuesday.

But a fellow opposition figure, Ilya Yashin of the Solidarity group, was jailed on Tuesday for 15 days for disobeying police orders during the previous day's rally.

A new rally in central Moscow has been called for Tuesday evening, against United Russia. A page on the Russian social networking site vKontakte calls for "making it hot for the thieving authorities".

Russian government supporters rally under images of President Dmitry Medvedev on Red Square, 6 December Russian government supporters rallied on Red Square on Tuesday

On Twitter, a medium much used by the protesters, a "6dec" Cyrillic hashtag has appeared. The hashtag "5dec" was associated with Monday's rally.

One tweet reads: "All decent people are asking Santa Claus [literally: Grandfather Frost] this year for a Russia without Putin."

Interior ministry spokesman Oleg Yelnikov told AFP news agency that "as many [troops] as required" would police Moscow.

He said security forces would remain on a "heightened regime" of alert until all the votes in the election were counted, adding that some 11,500 interior ministry troops would ensure order across the country.

A Moscow police spokesman separately told AFP that up to 4,000 police and interior ministry troops would be deployed to ensure order in Moscow alone on Tuesday.

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