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Putin plays it cool in face of 'murder plot'

29 february 2012, 14:41
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. ©RIA NOVOSTI
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. ©RIA NOVOSTI
Vladimir Putin shrugged off an alleged plot on his life Tuesday and vowed to instil fear in Russia's foes, in a trademark show of bravado ahead of polls expected to see him return to the Kremlin, AFP reports.

The final prediction from a top state pollster said Russia's current prime minister should cruise to victory in Sunday's presidential ballot with 59.9 percent of the vote.

But Putin has been keen to dispel any notion that his third term after a 2000-2008 presidency might be weakened by the first concerted swell of street protests against his rule.

He paid a snap visit to the site of an apartment block collapse in southern Russia that claimed at least nine lives and then addressed the furore created by a state TV report about a purported plot on his life by Chechen militants.

"You cannot live with constant fear -- let them fear us. I have been living with this since 1999," Putin said in reference to year when he became Boris Yeltsin's prime minister.

"People in my position have to live with this," Putin said in reference to attempts on his life. "They were never a bother and they never will be."

State-controlled Channel One television on Monday showed two men detained by the security services in Ukraine purportedly confessing to plans to blow up Putin's motorcade once he becomes president.

The station's main evening newscast also featured what it said were a series previously undisclosed attempts on Putin's life that were plotted after he became prime minister of President Dmitry Medvedev in 2008.

Critical commentators as well as two of Putin's main ballot rivals scoffed at Channel One's timing and called it a rather blunt attempt to paint Putin as the father of the nation who was risking his life in Russia's interests.

The TV reports suggest "the fatherland is in danger from all sides and our leader is under threat of physical annihilation," said Moscow Echo radio political editor Anton Orekhov.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said simply that the plot "smelled bad".

The 59-year-old former spy had built his career on an action-man image that galvanise supporters and helped him assume a commanding grip on power that had been unseen since Soviet times.

Analysts agree that Putin's main obstacle will not come Sunday when he faces only a token challenge but in the weeks and months to come when the protest movement tries to become a permanent irritant to his rule.

The VTsIOM state polling agency predicted on Tuesday that Putin's nearest challenger Zyuganov would come in a very distant second with 15.1 percent of the vote.

It also showed the billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov -- a pro-Kremlin tycoon who has been careful not to criticise Putin in the campaign -- pipping the veteran populist Vladimir Zhirinovsky to third with 8.7 percent.

The street rallies against Putin began in December when his ruling United Russia party managed to cling on to a majority of sears in legislative polls that seemed riddled with irregularities in major cities such as Moscow.

The opposition alleged that United Russia would have lost without cheating and pointed to some districts outside the capital where the party's support had halved to about 30 percent.

The Kremlin on Tuesday announced the resignation of the governor of one such region in the Pacific that incorporates the strategic port city of Vladivostok.

Primorye region governor Sergei Darkin's resignation letter said he was stepping down for health reason.

But one United Russia official told Kommersant the governor had resigned after "soberly assessing" recent criticism of his work by Putin.

By Dmitry Zaks

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