Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin Thursday deflected opposition allegations that fraud helped his ruling party win a parliamentary election, saying the result reflected the views of the population.

In his annual televised call-in question-and-answer session he also shrugged off the biggest opposition protests of his 12-year rule, saying they were permissible if they remained peaceful and within the law.

Putin's first public remarks since Saturday's mass protests signaled he would not bow to the protesters' demands for the Dec. 4 election to be rerun. But he made a gesture to them by calling for cameras to be installed at polling stations for a presidential election which he hopes to win on March 4.

From my point of view, the result of the election undoubtedly reflects public opinion in the country, said Putin. taking questions from a studio audience in a call-in broadcast live to the nation.

I am proposing and asking for the installation of web cameras at all the polling stations in the country, he said.

Putin, 59, has used the annual call-in to burnish his image as a strong, effective and caring leader with a detailed knowledge of the country and an interest in each of its citizens.

But he is under much more pressure this year following protests by tens of thousands of people over the election, which international monitors said was slanted to favor his United Russia.

United Russia won just under half the votes, enough to have a slim majority in the State Duma, the lower house, but fell far short of the strong majority in the previous chamber.

The opposition says its result would have been much worse if there had not been widespread ballot-stuffing and other irregularities.

Putin's authority has been dented by the protests and his popularity sank after he announced plans in September to swap jobs with his ally President Dmitry Medvedev after the presidential poll.

Many Russians saw this announcement as a signal that everything had been cooked up between the two leaders with no respect for democracy, and Putin's ratings have fallen since then.

Putin is still expected to win the presidential election next year but he now faces much more resistance than expected and the call-in was an opportunity to re-establish his legitimacy.

(Reporting By Timothy Heritage; Editing by Steve Gutterman)