Rival rallies to hit Moscow ahead of Putin inauguration

AFP , Saturday 5 May 2012

Tens of thousands Russians take to the street to show support for Vladimir Putin, as he gives his inauguration speech for a third presidential term, Another anti Putin protest will take place in the same time

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, PM Vladimir Putin in Moscow (Reuters)

Vladimir Putin supporters unveiled plans on Saturday to draw more than 50,000 people onto the streets of Moscow in a show of force ahead of the strongman's inauguration for a third presidential term.

Russia's current prime minister will take back the Kremlin seat he already held from 2000-2008 in a swearing-in ceremony on Monday that follows his thumping March 4 election win against only token opposition.

The margin of his victory took much of the steam out of mass protests that swept Moscow in the winter months and seemed to briefly catch the authorities off guard.

But the protest movement now intends to hold a self-proclaimed "March of Millions" on Sunday that was authorised by the city after weeks of negotiations but officially limited to just 5,000 people.

Meanwhile a coalition of Putin supporters said they did not need a permit from Moscow officials to gather for a "celebration" at Victory Park -- a site dedicated to Russia's defeat of Napoleon in 1812.

The event was timed to coincide with the first anniversary of Putin's decision to create a new movement called the All-Russian People's Front (ONF).

The group is tipped to become Putin's primary power base during the first of what could potentially become two new six-year terms for the 59-year-old leader.

A top city official said Putin's group did not need permission to bring out such large numbers onto a public square because "what they will be having is not a rally or a march or a protest."

"It will be a mass cultural event," Moscow regional security department head Alexei Mayorov told Russian news agencies.

Russia's increasingly powerful Orthodox Church also said it was installing a larger clapper in one of the Kremlin's bells for a "presidential ring" when Patriarch Kirill reads a special prayer blessing Putin's new term.

The entire transition in which Putin picked Dmitry Medvedev to fill his Kremlin seat while Russia engineered constitutional changes to let the ex-KGB agent run again has been tightly scripted.

The winter protests were in large part fuelled by the Soviet-style secrecy of the job swap agreement that Putin and Medvedev struck last year without any public debate.

The plan will see Medvedev visit parliament only hours after Putin's swearing-in ceremony to begin consultations that could see his candidacy for the premiership approved by Tuesday evening.

Russia's two leaders -- their role reversal successfully completed -- are then widely expected to review the nationally televised May 9 military parade on Red Square commemorating Soviet victory in World War II.

Medvedev looked sombre on Saturday as he gathered all the government ministers in the Kremlin for the last time to express his appreciation for their "command performance".

Russia's only one-term president has been widely criticised for failing to live up to his liberal political credentials and doing little to wean the country's economy off its strong dependence on oil exports.

"We piled up a lot of economic problems in the years we have been working together -- during both the (2008-2009) crisis and afterwards," Medvedev admitted before his ministers.

"But there have also been some obvious achievements that enable us to say that overall, we have managed to fairly successfully overcome the crisis," Medvedev said in what may very well be his last Kremlin speech.

Details of the new government are expected to emerge over the course of next week.

Most analysts's eyes are trained on the role to be played by current energy tsar Igor Sechin -- a trusted Putin ally with links to the powerful security bloc -- who may emerge as a powerful rival to Medvedev in the coming year.

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