Medvedev ends embattled Moscow mayor's 18 year rule

28th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday fired Moscow's strongman mayor Yury Luzhkov, ending a controversial 18 year rule that saw the Russian capital boom but also attracted bitter criticism.

The firing of Luzhkov, one of Medvedev's boldest moves since coming to power in 2008, came after the mayor was lambasted by the Kremlin for his aloof handling of the wildfire crisis over the summer that blanketed Moscow in smog.

A decree, published on the Kremlin web site, ordered Luzhkov, 74, to be "dismissed from the position of Moscow mayor because he has lost the confidence of the Russian president."

The decree, which comes into force immediately and was published while Medvedev is on an official visit to China, appointed Luzhkov's deputy, Vladimir Resin, as acting mayor.

In a snub, Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova said Tuesday that the president had no plans to meet Luzhkov. The Russian president has the power to fire the mayor of Moscow and all the other leaders of Russia's regions.

"There are two ways that a regional leader can leave his post before his term ends. He can leave voluntarily by announcing his resignation or with a harsher wording of loss of confidence," Timakova said.

"The mayor returned from holiday yesterday. Today the president signed a decree. You can draw your own conclusions from that," Timakova told reporters in Shanghai.

The Kremlin publicly criticised Luzhkov's decision to take a holiday during the August smog that engulfed the capital, and the mayor was targeted in a series of mud-raking documentaries shown on Russian television this month.

The mayor has long been dogged by corruption allegations over the business activities of his wife, construction billionaire Yelena Baturina, and has also been criticised by conservationists for destroying Moscow's historic centre.

Luzhkov's city hall controlled a vast budget of 32 billion dollars in 2009 as well as a property empire.

His dismissal came as the Kremlin seeks to freshen up the ranks of regional leaders, recently accepting the dismissals of a number of long-serving regional governors, who since 2005 have been appointed by the president.

Luzhkov on Monday had said in televised comments that he would not stand down as mayor voluntarily.

Luzhkov was appointed mayor by President Boris Yeltsin in 1992 and became popular with Muscovites for his beautification projects, which included rebuilding the Church of Christ the Saviour, blown up by the Bolsheviks.

He comfortably won mayoral elections before the post became a presidential appointment in 2005.

But the mayor also became a bete noire for the liberal opposition, sending in riot police to put down even small anti-government rallies and also notoriously describing gay rights rallies as satanic.

It remains to be seen how the move will be viewed by Medvedev's predecessor in the Kremlin and strongman Prime Minister Vladimir Putin who has been noticeably more restrained in his attitude to the Moscow mayor.

Luzhkov became Moscow mayor in 1992 at a time when Putin was still an obscure provincial official in Saint Petersburg and a complete unknown nationwide.

© 2010 AFP

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