Putin's supporters celebrate his birthday
Russia on Friday feted Vladimir Putin on his 59th birthday as the powerful prime minister revelled in his star status as the newly-minted presidential candidate.
His supporters from pro-Kremlin youth groups were celebrating Putin's birthday with events that included organising a tasting of the leader's favourite dishes and singing his praises on Red Square.
And Putin's young female fans dubbed "Putin's Army" planned later in the day to hold a "ranking of sexuality" of Putin's body parts, including his lips and eyes.
"We think he is a swell man," student Olga Komleva, one of the event's organisers, told AFP.
"We have no doubts that he will become president."
Since Putin has announced his plan to seek a third term in March polls, he has appeared in particularly good spirits.
Speaking Thursday to foreign investors in his first major public speech since the September 24 announcement, Putin relished the attention as he accepted early birthday wishes from attendees.
"I don't abuse (alcohol) so everything will be fine," the prime minister quipped at one point.
But Putin's critics used the occasion to criticise the man whose rule they said was a ticking time bomb for the country and could bring about potentially devastating consequences if he did not launch genuine reforms.
Putin has been accused of stifling freedoms since he came to power in 1999. He shocked many when last month he announced a carefully choreographed job swap with incumbent President Dmitry Medvedev.
Even though his support ratings have recently taken a beating, he remains Russia's most popular politician and is almost certain to win an election that some critics see as little more than a coronation.
"September 24, 2011 could be easily considered the final day of politics in Russia," opposition journalist Mikhail Fishman wrote in the Vedomosti business daily, referring to the date of Putin's comeback announcement.
Putin over the past few years has lost no opportunity to stress that he is in good physical health. He has posed in the Russian wilderness displaying his muscled torso and he had dived to the bottom of the world's deepest lake.
And his skills as a black belt in Judo are well known.
To mark the strongman's birthday last year, lingerie-clad students from Moscow's top university posed in an erotic calendar proclaiming their love for Putin.
© 2011 AFP