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West behind protests, says Putin

Prime Minister Vladimir Putin has accused the organisers of massive protests against vote fraud of working to weaken Russia on orders from the West and rejected calls for a rerun of the election.

In tough remarks likely to further fuel anger against his 12-year rule, Putin insisted the December 4 parliamentary election, which 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 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 US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as part of US efforts to weaken Russia. He said: "They still fear our nuclear potential. 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% of its seats in the election and no longer has the two-thirds majority it enjoyed in the previous paliament that allowed it to change the constitution at will.

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

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