Vladimir Putin’s critics spoil presidential campaign launch

Mr Putin’s website, which was first registered in 2009, two years before he
said he would run for president, came under attack from his critics.

In an apparent oversight, the site’s moderators initially failed to vet a
section allowing voters to leave suggestions for Mr Putin.

It was therefore initially bombarded with hostile comments urging him to leave
politics which were rated as the most popular before the site’s
administrators began deleting some of them.

“Leave politics please,” wrote one man. “We understand that
power is a drug but it would be a dignified act.” Mr Putin’s spokesman
denied the negative comments had been deleted however, claiming the site had “frozen”
for a few hours because it was so popular.

Even though he remains Russia’s most popular politician and would easily win a
presidential election if it was held tomorrow (albeit in the second round),
Mr Putin is facing an unprecedented wave of discontent over his dominance of
political life.

Tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest against his
United Russia party’s victory in a parliamentary election last month,
alleging the contest was heavily rigged in its favour.

Middle class voters in Moscow and St. Petersburg in particular appear to have
become disenchanted with the glacial pace of political reform and have
started vocally demanding that Mr Putin step down.

But the 59-year-old former KGB agent, who was president from 2000-2008 and has
been prime minister for the last four years, appears unfazed.

His spokesman said on Thursday it was unlikely he would even take part in
televised political debates with his opponents because he was apparently too

“Participating in TV debates calls for certain actions like formally
taking time-off (from his job as prime minister) but that would interfere
with his duties and you know how busy his programme is,” said Dmitry
Peskov, the spokesman.

Mr Putin’s opponents accused him of political cowardice with Gennady Zyuganov,
the Communist party leader, saying he was keen to debate the major issues of
the day with Mr Putin.

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