Speaking after partial results showed him far out in front of a field of six with more than 70% of the vote in Sunday's presidential election, Putin pledged tangible gains for voters during his second term.

He went out of his way to answer charges made that his four years in power had created an electoral system biased in his favour, and had hobbled press freedom.

"I promise you that all democratic gains of our people will without any doubt be upheld and guaranteed. And we shall not stop with what has been achieved. We shall strengthen the multi-party system," Putin told reporters.

He added: "We shall strengthen civil society and do everything to uphold media freedom.

"We shall do everything we can to ensure stable growth of our country's economy, stability in both the economy and the social sphere ... which we value."

Modernisation

Putin said his key policy aim was to modernise a country in which a quarter of the 145 million residents live below the poverty line.

"This has to be done carefully so as not to damage or undermine people's confidence in what we are doing," he said.

The president's victory, with Communist Nikolai Kharitonov a distant second on 14.3%, was never in doubt.

Finishing further back in the field were nationalist Sergei Glazyev on 4.2% and liberal Irina Khakamada, a strident Putin critic, on 3.8%.

The field

1. Vladimir Putin(independent) 70.9%

2. Nikolai Kharitonov (Communist Party) 14.0%

3. Sergei Glazyev (independent) 4.1%

4. Irina Khakamada (independent) 3.8%

5. Oleg Malyshkin (Liberal Democratic Party) 2.1%

6. Sergei Mironov (independent) 0.8%

But liberals alleged he monopolised state-run television and limited media freedom.

Both US Secretary of State Colin Powell and National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice suggested in interviews Putin's rivals had been denied fair media access.

Putin brushed aside the criticism as "dictated by the domestic political balance" in a US election year.

Reform pledges

However, he pledged if comments warranted reflection "we won't only take note of it, but will also draw the appropriate conclusions".

Much of the support for Putin among apathetic voters was rooted in the stability he introduced after a decade of turmoil under his predecessor Boris Yeltsin, and a measure of increased prosperity, mainly in major cities.

Nevertheless, Putin acknowledged there had been no big improvement in living standards.

"What has been done recently is not well-being," he said. "It isn't improving well-being. It is rather the dawn of well-being."

Worries that Putin's victory could be spoiled by a failure to reach the required 50% turnout figure proved unfounded with more than 60% casting ballots.

He has few domestic obstacles after a December election returned a parliament dominated by allies. A new government is stacked with technocrats certain to do his bidding.

Some analysts questioned whether Putin, however broad his powers, can follow through on reform pledges.

Another key question is how Putin deals with the post-Soviet super-rich after the jailing of oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky pending trial on tax evasion and fraud charges.