Russian TV savages Moscow mayor in rare move

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A Russian television channel loyal to the Kremlin on Friday broadcast a documentary savaging Moscow's controversial mayor, in a rare attack on a top serving official by mass media.

The natonal NTV channel, which is owned by state-controlled Russian gas giant Gazprom, issued a litany of allegations against Moscow mayor Yury Luzhkov who has held his post for the last 18 years.

The documentary ridiculed Luzhkov for taking days to return from holiday while Moscow choked in the toxic smog from the wildfires this summer and probed the business dealings of his wife Yelena Baturina, Russia's richest woman.

The expose, named "The Affair of the Flat Cap" in reference to the mayor's trademark hat, caricatured Luzhkov as a corrupt bumpkin with more interest in his hobby of beekeeping than running the Russian capital.

Luzhkov had always vehemently denied allegations relating to corruption or the business interests of his wife.

Such a strong attack against a serving official is unprecedented on Russian television in recent years and NTV appears to have been encouraged by mounting Kremlin frustration with Luzhkov.

Kremlin officials have critcised Luzhkov over his holiday in the wildfire crisis and accused him of trying to fabricate a rift between President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Oddly, while terrestrial transmission of the documentary was smooth NTV's satellite channel NTV Plus was blacked out by a mysterious technical glitch that lasted for most of the transmission.

"We need to look into this situation," the channel's deputy director Alexei Kukolevsky told Moscow Echo Radio.

With equally good timing, NTV also in the last weeks broadcast a documentary highly critical of Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko just as relations between the Kremlin and Minsk cooled.

© 2010 AFP

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