Dmitry Medvedev back as PM to complete Russia job swap


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The Independent Online

The job swap within Russia's ruling "tandem" was completed yesterday, as Dmitry Medvedev became Prime Minister, a day after Vladimir Putin switched from that job to return to the presidency.

As Mr Medvedev was voted in by the Duma, a small group of hardcore activists attempted to continue a sit-in protest against Mr Putin's return.

Mr Medvedev's ratification as prime minister was never in doubt, as the Russian parliament is dominated by Kremlin loyalists, and both leaders gave long speeches to the assembled MPs.

In his usual colourful language, Mr Putin berated the energy-dependent Russian economy, saying that "the only people to buy our galoshes were Africans who had nothing to do but walk on hot sand", and promised a new era of economic development.

Police have detained more than 600 people in the past days as massed protests against Mr Putin's return took over Moscow. The Russian leader won 63 per cent of the vote in the March elections to return him to the presidency for a six-year term after four years as prime minister, but opposition to his rule among urban elites is growing.

Two opposition leaders, the anti-corruption blogger Alexei Navalny and the radical leftist Sergei Udaltsov, have encouraged Muscovites to start a never-ending sit-in protest in the style of the Occupy movement seen in other countries. A few dozen protesters spent Monday night at a square in the Kitai-Gorod area of central Moscow, outside the Presidential Administration building. They periodically shifted as police moved them on, and eventually both Mr Navalny and Mr Udaltsov were detained and driven away. They were released later in the day and rejoined the protest. Mr Udaltsov said that the opposition was planning another mass rally for the end of the month. Amid fears that the protests are turning violent, the test now will be whether Mr Putin, in his third presidential term, will acquiesce to some of their demands or crack down further.

Early signs do not appear to point to a conciliatory mood in the Kremlin. Mr Putin's spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said after Sunday's riots that far from being harsh, the response of police had been too soft. An opposition MP, Ilya Ponomarev, wrote on his blog yesterday that he had confronted Mr Peskov over the comments and asked whether he really meant them.

Mr Peskov responded that far from regretting the comments, he realised that he had not gone far enough. "Those who injured police should have their livers smeared all over the asphalt," he said, according to Mr Ponomarev.

Mr Peskov could not be reached yesterday to confirm the exchange.