Putin to address Russians in phone-in show after protests

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Vladimir Putin was on Thursday to address Russians during his trademark marathon televised session as he prepares to reclaim the presidency after a rare outburst of protest against his rule.

The powerful prime minister is expected to use the traditional question-and-answer phone-in session to lay out plans for his third term in the Kremlin as he seeks to tackle the most serious political crisis of his 12-year rule.

"As in previous years, the head of the government during direct contact with Russians will answer questions that are of interest to our country's citizens," his office said.

Analyst say Putin who is preparing to move back to the Kremlin in March presidential polls is facing the worst legitimacy crisis of his rule after opposition parties and poll observers accused his ruling United Russia party of blatantly cheating in December 4 parliamentary polls.

Public anger culminated last weekend in a series of protests across the country including a rally in Moscow that drew tens of thousands of protesters of all political hues.

The protests on a scale unseen since the turbulent 1990s gave a major boost to the country's sidelined opposition which have promised a new mass protest on December 24 in Moscow.

Analysts predict substantial shake-ups in the leadership of United Russia and the government.

The controversy has already claimed its first high-profile casualty in the form of the dour-faced United Russia chairman Boris Gryzlov who on Wednesday resigned his post as speaker of the lower house of parliament, the State Duma.

Putin's stamina-busting phone-in session has become a feature of the winter season over the past years, with the Russian strongman holding court on everything from bread-and-butter issues to foreign policy.

During a four-and-a-half-session last year, Putin sealed the fate of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, saying "a thief must be in prison" even before a court delivered the verdict in his second trial on charges of embezzlement.

Days after the phone-in session Khodorkovsky and his business partner Platon Lebedev received a second prison term which is likely to keep them behind bars until 2016.

The carefully stage-managed performance flaunting Putin's charisma and a natural ability to command attention is designed to boost his image and show he remains in control despite various crises that befall Russia.

But analysts say that Putin is increasingly losing his magic touch as more and more Russians are showing signs of uneasiness over his tightly controlled political system.

© 2011 AFP

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