Kremlin drops critical billionaire from modernisation panel

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Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov, who accused Kremlin's top strategist of stifling debate, had been excluded from a national modernisation panel, President Dmitry Medvedev's office said Sunday.

Besides Prokhorov, two state officials left the state commission on modernisation while several figures, including billionaire Viktor Vekselberg were taken onboard, the Kremlin said in a terse statement.

"The changes have been made as part of a rotation," the statement said without providing details.

The announcement follows a report in broadsheet Kommersant saying Prokhorov, who is a long-serving member of the commission, would not be present at its Monday meeting set to be chaired by Medvedev.

The move comes after the free-wheeling billionaire last week quit as leader of the Pravoye Delo (A Right Cause) Kremlin-backed party and accused Medvedev's top strategist Vladislav Surkov of stifling political debate.

A Prokhorov aide, speaking to AFP, admitted that the exclusion may have come in retaliation for the unprecedented attack on Medvedev's aide, in charge of the ongoing political campaign in Russia but did not elaborate.

The move comes a day after a startling announcement that Prime Minister Vladimir Putin would return to the Kremlin for a third term.

Surkov on Sunday participated in a rare televised conference where he and other top government figures explained the significance of Saturday's announcement which also foresees Medvedev swapping jobs with Putin.

Asked by a reporter to comment on Prokhorov's accusations, Surkov declined comment.

Prokhorov's interests range from mining and metals to eco-friendly cars, and include stakes in Russia's biggest gold company Polyus Gold and the world's biggest aluminum producer United Company Rusal.

© 2011 AFP

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