- Associated Press - Thursday, December 22, 2011

MOSCOW | President Dmitry Medvedev responded to protests over this month’s fraud-tainted parliamentary elections by proposing some reforms Thursday to liberalize Russia’s political system.

But he sternly warned that the government won’t allow “provocateurs and extremists” to threaten stability.

The opposition said the proposed changes were welcome but insufficient, vowing to keep their push for the Dec. 4 vote to be rerun and election officials accused of violations to be punished.

Mr. Medvedev, a lame-duck leader speaking in his last state-of-the-nation address before Russia’s March 4 presidential election, said Russia “needs democracy, not chaos” and the government would strongly resist foreign pressure.

The statement follows massive rallies against fraud in the Dec. 4 vote, in which the main Kremlin party, United Russia, lost a quarter of its seats. Opposition leaders and independent election monitors say United Russia only managed to retain its majority by fraud.

A rally in Moscow demanding a repeat vote and punishment for the officials involved was the largest show of discontent since the 1991 Soviet collapse. Another massive rally is set for this weekend.

The protests have dented the power of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and signaled that his bid to reclaim the presidency in March may not be as trouble-free as had been thought.

While defending the vote results, Mr. Putin has suggested easing the tight controls on Russia’s political life that he introduced while he was president from 2000 to 2008.

Mr. Putin said he would support relaxing the draconian rules of registration for political parties and restoring the direct elections of governors. Mr. Putin added, however, that the president would retain the power to approve gubernatorial candidates.

Mr. Medvedev repeated the pledge to return to direct elections of governors and spelled out Mr. Putin’s promise to ease registration rules for political parties.

He said a group of 500 people representing more than half of Russia’s provinces would be allowed to register a party - a significant simplification of the current arcane procedure that requires a party to have at least 45,000 members.

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