Putin to hold annual question session with Russians

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Prime Minister Vladimir Putin was Thursday to hold his annual question-and-answer session with ordinary Russians in a marathon event expected to underline his grip on the country.

"As in previous years, the prime minister will answer questions concerning the citizens of our country in a live session," the government said in a statement.

The event, which has lasted up to four hours in previous years, was to receive blanket coverage on state television and radio when it starts at 0900 GMT.

Putin's stamina-busting question session has become a feature of the winter season over the last years, with the Russian strongman holding court on issues ranging from foreign policy to his early sex life.

This year, much of the session is expected to be dominated by bread-and-butter questions from Russians concerned about utility prices and the cost of food.

But it will also be closely watched over whether Putin drops any hints over his future plans.

Putin ceded the Kremlin to President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008, becoming a powerful prime minister, and speculation is buzzing that he may be plotting a return as head of state in 2012 elections.

Also closely watched will be any statements about jailed ex-tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, after the verdict in his second trial was unexpectedly postponed the day earlier to December 27.

The sheer magnitude of the event and its blanket media coverage is usually seen as a reaffirmation of Putin's status as the true Russian number one, even after handing the presidency to Medvedev.

Officials are expecting that over one million questions will have been suggested by phone, Internet and SMS by the time the show goes on air. Last year, Putin answered around 80 questions.

© 2010 AFP

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