Russia's president meets with critics on reforms

By the Associated Press | February 20, 2012 | 2:35 PM EST

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, second right, gestures while speaking during his meeting with leaders of Russian unregistered parties in the Gorki residence outside Moscow, Monday, Feb. 20, 2012. Medvedev has hosted an unprecedented meeting with opposition leaders to discuss easing rules for registration of political parties and other issues related to opposition protests. (AP Photo/RIA-Novosti, Yekaterina Shtukina, Presidential Press Service)

MOSCOW (AP) — Russia's president held an unprecedented meeting Monday with opposition leaders, who said they were encouraged by his promises to make it easier for anti-Kremlin parties to take part in elections, but he was unwilling to meet protesters' main demands.

The protests, triggered by evidence of fraud in a December parliamentary election, have drawn tens of thousands onto the streets to demand free and fair elections. The movement took Russia by surprise after years of political apathy, complicating Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to reclaim the presidency in the March 4 election.

In an attempt to assuage public anger, Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev have proposed some reforms to allow more political competition.

Opposition leader Vladimir Ryzhkov said after Monday's meeting that he was pleasantly surprised by the president's position on political parties. Overall, though, he said there was only about 15 percent agreement on how to move forward and Medvedev refused to consider a demand for new parliamentary elections.

He said Medvedev also did not respond to his proposal to form a permanent "round table" to bring together representatives of the president, the parties in parliament and the protest movement to work out a strategy for the formation of a "legitimate and effective" system of government.

Ryzhkov, speaking during a talk show on Ekho Moskvy radio, said the protests would continue until Russia's leaders understood that the parliament does not represent the will of the people and cannot be allowed to remain for the full five-year term.

Ryzhkov, 45, served in parliament from 1993 until the rules were changed in 2007 to block him and other independents from running.