Kremlin rebukes Moscow mayor for holidaying as city choked
The Kremlin on Tuesday issued a stinging rebuke to Moscow's long-serving mayor Yuri Luzhkov for staying on holiday for days while the city choked under unprecedented smog and fires raged on its fringes.
Luzhkov, the Russian capital's strongman for almost the entire post-Soviet period, steadfastly refused to break off his summer break even as the scale of the crisis became clear and only returned on Sunday.
"Of course it is good that Yuri Mikhailovich (Luzhkov) returned from holiday and took up his duties. But of course this should have happened earlier," a Kremlin source said in a statement on Russian news agencies.
"The absence of the mayor clearly did not help that necessary decisions being made on time, without delays," the source added.
As Moscow started choking under the worst smog in living memory last week, Luzhkov initially refused to return from holiday, with his aides earning ridicule in the tabloid press by denying there was any crisis in the city.
His press spokesman Sergei Tsoi had told news website lifenews.ru last week that there was "no crisis situation in Moscow". It has not been confirmed where Luzhkov was holidaying.
When the mayor finally returned on Sunday, Luzhkov's deputy also raised eyebrows by explaining the 73-year-old mayor had been absent for treatment on a "sports injury".
Looking well sun-tanned and wearing a light-coloured suit, Luzhkov Tuesday met Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in a televised meeting.
Putin said Luzhkov had been right to come back and pointedly made no effort to disguise the fact the mayor had been on holiday.
"You of course did the right thing by coming back from holiday. You did it on time," Putin said.
Luzhkov, who has served as Moscow mayor for almost two decades, is one of Russia's longest-lasting officials, but has come under increasing pressure over the last months as the Kremlin reshuffles powerful regional bosses.
The mayor has courted controversy in the past by describing gay pride marches as "satanic" and defending a plan to put up posters of Stalin at ceremonies to celebrate victory in World War II.
© 2010 AFP