MOSCOW // The ruling party of Russia's prime minister, Vladimir Putin, has taken a beating in parliamentary elections and tens of thousands of security forces were deployed on Moscow streets yesterday to prevent a repeat of protests over claims of vote fraud that saw thousands marching and chanting "Russia without Putin!"
Mr Putin, expected to win a March presidential election, said yesterday he was satisfied with his United Russia party's reduced 50 per cent vote, saying a drop in support was "inevitable" for any ruling party.
But in neighbouring Lithuania, the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, criticised Sunday's vote and urged an investigation into widespread reports of voting fraud in favour of Mr Putin's party.
United Russia's vote was a significant drop from the 2007 election when it won 64 per cent, gaining a majority that allowed it to change the constitution.
But opposition politicians and election monitors said the latest result was inflated by ballot-box stuffing and other fraudulent practices.
Mr Putin, however, said the ruling party had retained a "stable" majority. "Yes, there were losses, but they were inevitable," he said. "They are inevitable for any political force, particularly for the one which has been carrying the burden of responsibility for the situation in the country."
Russian officials have denied any significant vote violations.
The results reflected public fatigue with both Mr Putin's authoritarian streak and widespread official corruption in Russia, signalling that his return to the presidency in March may not be as trouble-free as he expected.
Anger against heavy-handed state interference in the campaign in support of United Russia and evidence of vote fraud prompted thousands to march across downtown Moscow on Monday.
Police detained about 300 protesters in Moscow and 120 participants at a similar rally in St Petersburg.
One of the leaders, Ilya Yashin, who was among those arrested, was sentenced to 15 days in jail yesterday for disobeying police.
Security forces beefed up their presence across the capital yesterday to prevent any further protests.
Moscow police said 51,500 interior ministry personnel had been deployed as part of increased security for the election period.
The election drew criticism from one of Mr Putin's predecessors.
"There is no real democracy here and there won't be any, if the government is afraid of the people," the former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said on Ekho Moskvy radio.
Mrs Clinton criticised the vote for a second day, saying: "Russian voters deserve a full investigation of electoral fraud and manipulation."
Russia's only independent election monitoring group, Golos, which is funded by US and European grants, came under heavy official pressure ahead of Sunday's vote after Mr Putin likened Russian recipients of foreign support to Judas. Golos' website was incapacitated by hackers on voting day, and the email, phone numbers and social media accounts of its director and deputy director were hacked.