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POLITICSRSS

© RIA Novosti. Ramil Sitdikov

Protests mar Putin inauguration

by at 10/05/2012 23:09

Vladimir Putin officially took back the reins of power as Russian president on Monday as Moscow witnessed some of the worst street violence in months, amid a tough police clampdown.

The confrontation between massed ranks of police and a resurgent opposition movement came to a violent crescendo of Sunday, a day ahead of the inauguration, with 650 protesters arrested and dozens injured. Police said some 20 to 30 police officers were among those injured in violent clashes on Bolotnaya Ploshchad, where some 50,000 protesters gathered for a “March of Millions.”

But the clashes and arrests continued on a smaller scale, through Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday, as groups of protesters dodged police at a series in the city center.

In an unprecedented step, police also snatched dozens of opposition supporters from cafes and restaurants – for the simple act of wearing a white ribbon, the symbol of the “Fair Elections” movement.

On Monday, Putin swore an oath on a copy of the Constitution in a lavish Kremlin ceremony attended by 2,000 leading state officials and dignitaries, including outgoing President Dmitry Medvedev, Patriarch Kirill, the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Putin’s longtime political ally, former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In a five-minute speech, Putin declared: “I swear on the power invested in me as president of the Russian Federation to respect and protect the rights and freedom of its citizens.

“We are entering a new stage of national development,” Putin said. “We want to live in a democratic country...in a successful Russia. I consider it to be my life’s meaning and duty to serve my fatherland and our people.”

Putin followed the inauguration with a series of executive orders, outlining upbeat economic policy objectives over the next six years.

On Tuesday, the State Duma officially ratified the outgoing president, Dmitry medvedev, as Putin’s prime minister, by a vote of 299-144. The Communist Party and a majority of the Just Russia party voted against Medvedev for PM.

On March 4, Putin won the presidential elections in the first round, with 63.6 percent of the vote. The official figures from the Central Elections Commissions have been contested by the opposition, which claims that widespread fraud took place.

Putin’s new term of office, his third, will last until 2018. Under the recently amended Constitution, Putin can serve until 2024 if reelected then, as presidential terms were extended from four to six years under Medvedev’s rule.

On Monday, as Putin’s motorcade sped to the Kremlin, riot police sealed off streets nearby, and arrested scores of opposition protesters wearing white ribbons, the symbol of the “Fair Elections” movement – including inside cafes and restaurants around Moscow’s Boulevard Ring.

Some 120 arrests were made, according to RIA Novosti, in addition to around 600 arrests from Sunday’s opposition protests, where 50,000 to 100,000 people gathered on Bolotnaya Ploshchad, across the Moscow River from the Kremlin.

One of Putin’s first acts as returning president Monday was to fulfill his promise to appoint Medvedev as his prime minister – in a controversial “castling” move that stirred up mass protests this winter.

Shortly before Putin’s inauguration Medvedev said that the authorities had grown “more open to dialogue” during his tenure as president.

But some analysts were skeptical that Putin would now follow up on promises Medvedev made in December to conduct a dialogue with the opposition.

“The authorities don’t know how to do dialogue and don’t like it,” Alexei Makarkin, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies, told RIA Novosti, adding that he thought a ban on rallies in central Moscow was now likely.

In a signal that Putin intends to push ahead with $170 billion in spending pledges made during the election campaign, on Monday he signed a decree ordering the creation of 25 million jobs for highly skilled workers by 2020, the Kremlin said.

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