Russia's Putin: Less party support inevitable

MANSUR MIROVALEV
AP
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Red lights of police cars are reflected on the wet asphalt where police officers block the road after a political rally in downtown Moscow, Monday, Dec. 5, 2011. Several thousand people have protested in Moscow against Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and his party, which won the largest share of a parliamentary election that observers said was rigged. A group of several hundred then marched toward the Central Elections Commission near the Kremlin, but were stopped by riot police and taken away in buses. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)

MOSCOW (AP) — Prime Minister Vladimir Putin declared Tuesday he was satisfied with his party's performance in Russia's parliamentary election even though it lost a significant number of seats, saying that a drop in support was "inevitable" for any ruling party.

The statement came as authorities flooded Moscow with tens of thousands of security forces, hoping to prevent a repeat of the anti-vote fraud protest late Monday that saw thousands marching and chanting "Russia without Putin!"

In neighboring Lithuania, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton again criticized the Russian election and urged that widespread reports of voting fraud be investigated.

Putin's United Russia party won about 50 percent of Sunday's vote, a result that opposition politicians and election monitors said was inflated due to ballot-box stuffing and other vote fraud. It was a significant drop from the 2007 election when United Russia took 64 percent, gaining a two-thirds majority that allowed it to change the constitution.

Putin, however, said the ruling party had retained a "stable" majority.

"Yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable," he said. "They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country."

Russian officials have denied any significant vote violations.

The results reflected public fatigue with both Putin's authoritarian streak and widespread official corruption in Russia, signaling that his return to the presidency in next March's election may not be as trouble-free as he expected.

Anger against a heavy-handed state interference in the campaign in support of United Russia and evidence of vote fraud prompted thousands to march across downtown Moscow late Monday.

Police detained about 300 protesters in Moscow and 120 participants in a similar rally in St. Petersburg. One of the leaders, Ilya Yashin, who was among those arrested, was sentenced to 15 days in jail Tuesday for disobeying police.

Security forces beefed up their presence across the capital Tuesday to prevent any further protests. Moscow police said 51,500 Interior Ministry personnel were involved and it was all part of increased security for the election period.

The Russian election even drew criticism from one of Putin's predecessors.

"There is no real democracy here and there won't be any, if the government is afraid of the people," former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.

Clinton criticized the Russian vote for a second straight day, saying Tuesday that "Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation."

Konstantin Kosachev, a senior United Russia member, described Clinton's statement as "one of the darkest pages in the Russian-U.S. relations" and warned Washington against supporting the opposition.

Russia's only independent election monitoring group, Golos, which is funded by U.S. and European grants, came under heavy official pressure ahead of Sunday's vote after Putin likened Russian recipients of foreign support to Judas. Golos' website was incapacitated by hackers on the voting day, and its director Lilya Shibanova and her deputy had their cell phone numbers, email and social media accounts hacked.

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Vladimir Isachenkov contributed to this report.