Putin derides protestors, rejects demands

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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Tuesday belittled Russia's protest movement as lacking clear aims or leaders and rejected their demands for a review of the results of disputed parliamentary polls.

Putin's comments were his latest warning he does not plan to be swayed by the demands of the emboldened protestors, who at the weekend staged their biggest demonstration yet against his 12 year domination of Russia.

"They have no united programme, clear ways of reaching their aims -- which are themselves not clear -- or people who could achieve something concrete," Putin said in comments broadcast by state television.

"I have difficulty imagining who from their ranks could do concrete work for the development of our state," Putin told a meeting of his All-Russian Popular Front that rallies support for him.

He bluntly rejected the protestors' most pressing demand -- a review and re-run of the December 4 polls for the State Duma lower house of parliament won by the ruling United Russia party which the opposition says was rigged.

"The elections are over. The parliament has started its work and a speaker elected. The State Duma is working... There can be no talk of any review," Putin said.

"There is only one way prescribed by law -- an appeal to court," he said.

But Putin said it was necessary to lift any "insinuations" that alleged there would be fraud in the March 4 presidential polls and vowed that there would be increased transparency if required.

"I, as one of the candidates, need no tricks. I want to have the will of the people and their trust. Without that there is no point in working," he added.

Putin is bracing for a challenging two months ahead of the March 4 presidential elections where he will stand for a historic third term as Kremlin chief after his four year stint as prime minister.

Tens of thousands of people rallied in central Moscow on Saturday for the second time mass demonstration in an action that was both bigger and more directly aimed against Putin than the first protest on December 10.

Alexei Navalny -- a lawyer who won prominence with investigations of state corruption and became one of the figureheads of the anti-Putin movement -- said he would be prepared to challenge Putin in fair elections.

Navalny can no longer register for the presidential ballot because the deadline expired earlier this month but he told Moscow Echo radio in an interview he would challenge Putin if the elections were fair.

"When we get a chance to take part in elections, I am ready to fight for leading positions, including in the presidential vote," he said.

"This (March 4) vote that we will be having will not be an election. They will be illegitimate no matter what happens. We will never recognise them," Navalny said.

A poll by the independent Levada Centre of participants at Saturday's rally found them better educated and regular Internet users but with no single vision about an alternative leader.

Just 22 percent said they would vote for Navalny as president, with the veteran liberal Yabloko party leader Grigory Yavlinsky closely trailing him with 21 percent.

Former finance minister Alexei Kudrin told the Vedomosti daily that he had met Putin on the eve of Saturday's mass rally in Moscow and advised him that "urgent dialogue was needed" with the protestors.

"I understood that he was not afraid of the March 4 elections. He is ready to take all the measures necessary to make sure these elections are fair," Kudrin, who addressed the rally, told the business daily.

The leaders of the protest movement have not yet said when the next demonstration will take place but they have indicated it will not be before the end of the New Year holidays in mid-January.

However huge anger has been sparked by the additional 10-day jail sentence handed to Sergei Udaltsov, an ultra-left wing activist who had already served a term in prison for taking part in a rally earlier this month.

More than 1,700 people have vowed on Facebook to attend a rally on Thursday on Pushkin Square in Moscow "for the release and life of Udaltsov and all political prisoners" amid growing concerns over his health.

© 2011 AFP

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