Russia's Medvedev snubs opposition in election row

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MOSCOW - The Kremlin on Thursday said President Dmitry Medvedev backed the ruling party's landslide victory in disputed regional elections, snubbing opposition parties who walked out of parliament alleging vote-rigging.

Kremlin critics say the row over Sunday's regional elections illustrates the gulf between Medvedev's promises of greater pluralism and the reality of a tightly controlled political system crafted by his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Official results gave Putin's United Russia party a landslide victory in the elections, prompting the Communist Party and two other parties normally obedient to the Kremlin to march out of parliament and demand a meeting with Medvedev.

When asked about the row, Kremlin spokeswoman Natalya Timakova told reporters that Medvedev's views had not changed from Monday when he hailed United Russia's victory as showing the party had a legal and moral right to run the regions.

The president's position has not changed, Timakova told reporters in the Kremlin, adding that the president may find time to meet parliamentary party leaders some time next week.

The president has given an order to find a possible time for a meeting, she said.

No specific time was given though she said the president had spoken by telephone to Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov and the leader of the right-wing LDPR party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Russia's tiny pro-Western opposition has no parliamentary seats.

PARTIES RETURN

Putin, speaking to reporters in Beijing late on Wednesday, said he was pleased with the election results.

Those who don't win are never happy, he said, adding that any issues should be fought over in court.

Zhirinovsky said his party would return to parliament because Medvedev had listened to his arguments and the pro-Putin Fair Russia party said it would do so as well. It was unclear whether the Communist Party would go back.

The opposition parties staged the walk out after United Russia crushed them in Sunday's regional, district and mayoral polls in which around a third of Russian voters could take part.

Opposition parties said election officials ignored blatant vote-rigging and demanded the resignation of longtime Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and Central Election Commission chief Vladimir Churov.

Churov, a former work colleague of Putin's, has already dismissed the opposition complaints as improper hysteria.

Just three opposition members, all from the Communist Party, were set to enter Moscow's 52-seat city council with all other seats going to United Russia.

United Russia, which is led by Putin, has 315 deputies in the 450-seat lower house of parliament, giving it enough seats to push through changes to the constitution. The Communist Party has 57 seats, followed by LDPR with 40 and Fair Russia with 38.
Complete support for Putin and close ties with the Kremlin have given United Russia -- which calls itself the party of power -- control over most regions.

I regard the opposition's action as a violation of political stability in the country, said Boris Gryzlov, the chairman of United Russia's ruling council, told reporters.

Medvedev, who is not a member of the United Russia party, has repeatedly pledged to boost democracy in Russia though on Monday he said United Russia's victory showed it had a moral but also legal right to run the regions.

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge, editing by Jon Boyle)

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