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Putin Scolds Party After Kaliningrad Rally Exposes Discontent


Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks to senior officials of his United Russia part on February 5.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks to senior officials of his United Russia part on February 5.

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin told his ruling party it must pay more attention to ordinary voters, just days after one of the biggest opposition protests in a decade.

About 10,000 people attended a rally in the Baltic region of Kaliningrad last week to call for the dismissal of the governor, prompting Putin's United Russia party to send officials to investigate why its local leader had become so unpopular.

At a meeting in advance of regional elections next month, Putin told senior party officials they should avoid raising expectations by promising "everything all at once" only to ignore voters after election day.

"You cannot turn into promisers, who make promises only to...get into power and then spend their time solving their own personal problems," said Putin, who is the party's chairman.

About 100 activists gathered outside the Kaliningrad regional administration building on February 5 to call for the governor to be sacked.

Rally organizers said they would give Putin a few weeks to respond to their demand before holding another major rally.

United Russia, which has a two-thirds majority in parliament, is campaigning to win 90 percent of seats in regional elections on March 14, senior party official Boris Gryzlov told Putin.

Unemployment, which has grown by one-third to more than 6 million in since 2007, and big rises in prices charged by state-run monopolies are adding to discontent in many regions.

Putin told the leaders to warn voters of the consequences of voting for untried opposition parties.

United Russia must always explain that "proper and well-organized leaders are always capable of solving any problems and that in the absence of such leaders, anarchy prevails," he said.

United Russia portrays Putin's decade in power as president and then prime minister as the restoration of order after the economic chaos of the 1990s.

Pro-Western liberal opposition forces such as Solidarity and Yabloko are cast as the heirs to the unpopular rule of former President Boris Yeltsin.

Solidarity was one of the organizers of last week's protest in Kaliningrad and surprised observers by persuading the Communist and Liberal Democratic parties, both mainstays of a Kremlin-dominated system that tolerates only the mildest of dissent, to join them.

United Russia officials said the Kaliningrad demonstration was not mentioned during the meeting.
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