Medvedev fires veteran Moscow mayor

28th September 2010, Comments 0 comments

President Dmitry Medvedev on Tuesday fired Moscow's strongman mayor Yury Luzhkov, dramatically ending an 18-year rule that transformed the Russian capital but also attracted bitter controversy.

The merciless sacking -- 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 summer wildfire crisis 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 terse decree, which comes into force immediately, gave no further details on the reason and appointed Luzhkov's deputy, Vladimir Resin, as acting mayor. It was published while Medvedev is on an official visit to China.

Kremlin officials said Luzhkov had been given time to go of his own accord but the mayor had stubbornly refused to quit, forcing Medvedev into the extremely unusual move of firing a top regional leader.

The president has the power to sack the leaders of Russia's regions and Medvedev has already replaced several long-serving strongmen in some of the most important regions in the country, most of whom left voluntarily.

"There are two ways 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," said Medvedev's spokeswoman Natalya Timakova.

"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 where Medvedev is on the last stage of his China visit.

A source in the mayor's office told the ITAR-TASS news agency that Luzhkov found out about his dismissal as he was at his desk, preparing for a session of the city parliament later Tuesday.

Luzhkov's city hall controlled a vast budget of 36.5 billion dollars in 2010 as well as a property empire.

Skyscrapers and Western fashion boutiques and supermarkets sprouted up throughout Moscow under Luzhkov's rule as the capital sought to shake off its reputation as a chaotic "big village" and become an international centre.

But with infrastructure not keeping pace with its growth, the capital became blighted by horrendous traffic jams while most ordinary people could still only dream of shopping in the designer stores in the city centre.

The speaker of Russia's upper house of parliament Sergei Mironov said Luzhkov had stayed too long in power and had made a bad miscalculation by failing to step down while on holiday in Austria last week.

"The Alpine air, it seems, played a mean trick on Yury Luzhkov. If he had quit earlier, Muscovites would have put up a statue to him," he said according to the Interfax news agency.

With the knives out for a figure who was for so long a central part of the Russian elite, ruling party United Russia also lost no time in turning on Luzhkov, once one of its top leaders.

"We regret that one of the founders of the United Russia party due to his own mistakes lost the confidence of the head of the state," Vyacheslav Volodin, a top United Russia official, said in comments on the party website.

The Kremlin has 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 also became a bete noire for the liberal opposition, sending in riot police to put down even small anti-government rallies and also 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 had been noticeably more restrained in his attitude to the Moscow mayor.

© 2010 AFP

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