Top tycoon accuses Kremlin of pre-election pressure

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Russian oligarch Mikhail Prokhorov on Wednesday accused the Kremlin of seeking to put his party on a tight leash as he chose to openly confront the authorities ahead of key polls.

The billionaire leader of the Pravoe Delo (Right Cause) party spoke hours after his allies and spokespeople complained that people close to the Kremlin had conspired against the party leader to boot him out ahead of key polls.

"There are attempts by employees of the presidential administration to put the Right Cause party under control," Prokhorov told a news conference.

"Who is behind this, I will say tomorrow," he said, referring to the second day of the party congress scheduled for Thursday.

The first day of the party's pre-election congress kicked off with a scandal as Prokhorov's allies and spokespeople accused the Kremlin of manoeuvring to force him out after he apparently provoked its ire.

"There are forces who are seeking to split the party apart," a source at the party told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"We believe that these people are close to the presidential administration."

Party spokeswoman Olga Stukalova told AFP the party congress was "hijacked by people close to the presidential administration".

Party member and prominent journalist Alexander Lyubimov said Kremlin-connected political consultants and several party members were seeking to form a majority to oust Prokhorov.

The party source told AFP the billionaire might have angered Kremlin with a number of bold statements.

Prokhorov told reporters later in the day that one of top Kremlin officials, Radiy Khabirov, was behind the attack on him, adding that Kremlin's top ideologue Vladislav Surkov was also watching the congress closely.

A Kremlin spokewoman declined to comment.

The presumed schism within the party and complains of Kremlin-sanctioned pressure come as an ironic turn of events for a party leader who analysts had said enjoyed tacit Kremlin support.

In June, Prokhorov won the party leadership, setting the goal of challenging the dominance of Vladimir Putin's ruling faction United Russia.

The move marked the first foray into politics by a top businessman since the 2003 arrest of Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Analysts have said it could not have come without the tacit support of Russia's ruling duo, who stand to benefit from a semblance of political competition ahead of parliamentary polls in December and presidential elections three months later.

Prokhorov, who is described as Russia's most eligible bachelor and enjoys a reported fortune of $18 billion, has denied he had to obtain the Kremlin's permission to head the party.

He had become increasingly bold in his statements over the past weeks, slamming Russia's "autocratic power" and attacking the Kremlin's model of government.

© 2011 AFP

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