MOSCOW - A jubilant Vladimir Putin shrugged off opposition assertions Wednesday that his presidential election victory was unfair and marred by fraud, saying any violations were not significant enough to affect the vote's outcome.
Putin slapped at his foes, criticizing them as failing to offer a constructive program and daring the opposition to become a real political force by proving its worth at the ballot box - a tall order in a country where elections are tightly controlled and opposition parties have been sidelined.
The Russian leader's tough remarks indicate he has no intention of softening his policies in response to massive protests that have revealed the depths of public anger over his 12-year rule.
"Those who lose never like their defeat,'' a beaming Putin said.
Putin, who has steadily rolled back Russia's post-Soviet freedoms to tighten controls over the political scene, suggested that his opponents take advantage of Kremlin-drafted bills yet to take effect that ease restrictive registration rules for political parties and liberalize campaign rules.
The Kremlin reforms came in response to a series of massive protests against Putin's rule, which had been fueled by the fraud-tainted parliamentary election in December.
The Kremlin approved a new demonstration for Saturday on Novy Arbat, one of Moscow's major avenues, but even one of the protest's organizers acknowledged it would be hard to sustain the movement's momentum, calling "the romantic phase of protest'' over.