Putin: Russia voters still have a choice

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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin denied Monday he was the shoe-in candidate in Russia's presidential vote after announcing his plan to return to the Kremlin in a role reversal with Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin recorded an extended interview with Russia's three main television channels, snippets of which were shown on Monday morning ahead of the full prime time broadcast at 8:30 pm (1630 GMT).

"There is always a choice for the average citizens," morning news bulletins showed Putin as saying with an edge to his voice.

Putin stressed that it was vital for the ruling United Russia party he leads to remain the dominant force after December's parliamentary elections -- a status it has held for most of the past decade.

"The most important thing is people's trust. United Russia must remain the leading political force in the country after the State Duma elections," he said.

"As for the governing bodies of the party, here I think there will be change," he said.

Former KGB agent Putin hand-picked Medvedev to succeed him in 2008 after spending eight years in the Kremlin and establishing a level of authority and popularity that officials in post-Soviet Russia never enjoyed before.

The lawyer-by-training Medvedev's approval ratings are somewhat lower and the two old allies together announced a planned job swap last month that would most likely see Putin return to his old post in March.

The arrangement sparked some discontent in the independent media and among liberals and prompted a spokesman for Putin as well as Medvedev himself to argue that claims of Russia returning to its communist era were out of place.

But Medvedev admitted over the weekend that some of his more liberal supporters were disappointed by his decision to step down.

"I know that some of my supporters -- those people who had talked about the necessity of change -- felt some kind of disappointment or some slight feeling of tension," Medvedev said on Saturday.

"This arrangement is not a return to the past but a way to solve the tasks that stand before us," he added.

© 2011 AFP

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