Masses protest Putin as he re-takes Kremlin

Masses protest Putin as he re-takes Kremlin

Masses protest Putin as he re-takes Kremlin

Russian President Vladimir Putin (C) enters Andreyevsky (St.Andrew’s) Hall at the Great Kremlin Palace for his inauguration ceremony. Guest list includes old friends of Putin, such as Italian Former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi. AFP photo

Vladimir Putin began a historic third term as Russian president yesterday in a glittering Kremlin ceremony overshadowed by the arrests of hundreds who protested against his 12-year domination of Russia.

Putin, head of state from 2000-2008, took over for outgoing president Dmitry Medvedev and swore to protect the rights of Russian citizens while pledging a “new stage” in Russia’s development.

The Kremlin bells echoed across Moscow and the presidential guard donned Tsarist-era uniforms for the brief but spectacular inauguration. Guests included old friends of Putin, including Italian ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi. Putin, 59, proposed his Kremlin predecessor Dmitry Medvedev as the country’s new prime minister, according to Agence France-Presse. The lower house of parliament’s speaker Sergei Naryshkin said Putin submitted Medvedev’s name for confirmation shortly after taking the oath.

Placing his hand on a copy of the constitution, Putin swore to “respect and protect the rights and freedoms of the people” and defend Russia’s security as he officially took over from Medvedev.

Putin takes nuclear case
Yet activists accuse Putin of systematically sacrificing rights in the pursuit of stability and lacking legitimacy after his knockout March 4 election victory with 63.6 percent of the vote, which was marred by claims of fraud. The eve of the ceremony saw the worst clashes yet between police and anti-Putin protestors when a mass opposition demonstration descended into chaos and security forces wielded their batons to arrest hundreds of people. Police said that 436 people were detained at May 6’s protest, including the anti-Putin leaders Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, who now face the prospect of spending at least the next two weeks in jail.

Yesterday Moscow police detained another 120 people, including liberal opposition leader Boris Nemtsov, during an unsanctioned rally against the inauguration close to the Kremlin walls. Police said they would all be released after a warning. The inauguration was marked by needle-sharp choreography, with Putin driven from the government headquarters through eerily deserted Moscow streets blocked off by police and then into the Kremlin itself.

As well as Berlusconi, other notable guests included Putin’s wife Lyudmila, who has been rarely seen in public in recent years, and the last Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Minutes after the Kremlin ceremony, Medvedev passed Putin the black “nuclear suitcase” with the codes that control the country’s vast nuclear arsenal, official images showed. Guests at a lavish reception later were served the finest Russian dishes, including sturgeon steak and smoked cod washed down by Kremlin vodka and an astonishing 5,000 bottles of 2008 Abrau Durso “shampanskoye,” Russian sparkling wine, RIA Novosti reported.

In a brief speech after his swearing-in, Putin said that Russia was now “reborn” and vowed to take it to a “new stage” of development during his six-year Kremlin mandate. ”We will have to decide tasks of a new level, a new quality and scale. The coming years will be decisive for Russia’s fate for decades to come,” he said. Committing to project a strong Russia in foreign policy, Putin said Moscow would be a “reliable, open, honest and predictable partner” but also “the center of gravity for the entire Eurasia.”