Several opposition deputies walked out of Russia's lower house of parliament on Wednesday in protest at comments by Prime Minister Vladimir Putin about a dispute over a local election that has triggered a hunger strike.

Oleg Shein, a representative of the opposition Just Russia party, and a group of supporters began the hunger protest after complaining of fraud in a mayoral election in the southern city of Astrakhan which he lost to a rival from a pro-Kremlin party.

In response to a question from Just Russia after delivering a speech to the Duma, Putin made clear he believed the correct way to challenge the election outcome was through the courts.

As far as I know, your colleague Oleg Shein, has started the hunger strike but did not appeal to court. This is a bit strange. Why go on hunger strike? Putin said.

Maybe the court will sort it out and everybody will agree with the outcome. It seems to me that they have to go to court, Putin added.

Shein's hunger strike has become a focus for the opposition as it tries to breathe life into protests against Putin that have lost steam since he was elected for a six-year term as president on March 4.

It was not immediately clear how many deputies were involved in the walkout. Just Russia has 64 representatives in the 450-seat Duma.

(Reporting by Gleb Bryanski, Editing by Timothy Heritage)