Putin says demands for rerun of poll will not be granted
VLADIMIR Putin belittled Russia's protest movement yesterday in his first comments since an estimated 80,000 people turned out on Christmas Eve, calling for a rerun of parliamentary elections.
The Russian prime minister attacked his opponents, saying: "The elections are over. The parliament has started its work and a speaker is elected. The state Duma (legislative assembly) is working. There can be no talk of any review."
Russia has been rocked by the largest anti-government protests since the 1990s after the elections on December 4, in which Mr Putin's United Russia party barely retained its majority in a vote blighted by allegations of ballot-rigging.
The protests have cast a shadow over Mr Putin's plan to return to the presidency -- after a four-year break -- at elections to be held in March.
Mr Putin criticised the opposition for allegedly lacking clear aims or leaders, saying: "I have difficulty imagining who from their ranks could do concrete work for the development of our state."
His comments came the day after Alexei Navalny, the prominent anti-corruption blogger -- whom many regard as the opposition's strongest potential challenger -- said he would form his own party and enter the presidential race.
Officially, he is too late to take part in the election on March 4, the deadline for registration having passed while he served a 15-day jail sentence for disobeying a police officer during a demonstration against election fraud on December 5.
But Mr Navalny said he would push for even bigger rallies to force the authorities to delay the election until current political-party restrictions were lifted. In what appeared to be a Kremlin move to assuage middle class discontent, President Dmitry Medvedev yesterday sacked the deputy head of the presidential administration, Vladislav Surkov, the "grey cardinal" credited with masterminding the system of managed democracy that Mr Putin has built up.
Sergei Shoigu, the emergency situations minister and another Putin ally, compared the situation to the constitutional crisis of 1993, which ended with Boris Yeltsin sending tanks to shell parliament.
"I support all those who take to the streets to defend respect for their rights. But I will do everything to prevent (a repeat of those events)," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)