Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has met with opposition leaders to discuss easing the rules on registering political parties and other political reforms.
On February 20, Medvedev met with representatives of the parties that have been denied registration, including those who helped stage massive demonstrations against alleged vote fraud in the December parliamentary election.
The protests which brought tens of thousands of people onto the streets also challenged Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's bid to reclaim the presidency in the March 4 election.
In an apparent attempt to calm protests, Putin and Medvedev have proposed some reforms to allow more political competition.
The meeting on February 20 was the first known direct high-level contact between the opposition and the Kremlin since the protests began in December.
Opposition leaders who took part in the meeting at the president's Gorky residence outside Moscow included veteran liberal and former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov, liberal politician Vladimir Ryzhkov, left-wing leader Sergei Udaltsov, and other Kremlin critics.
Political System 'Far From Ideal'
Medvedev said at the start of the meeting that he wanted to discuss the political system which admitted had some shortcomings.
"Our political system is far from ideal and most of the people present here criticize it, sometimes harshly," he said. "At the same time, it is desirable to base any [political] changes on ideas that are accepted broadly. I believe the time has come to do that."
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Russian media reports say opposition leaders handed Medvedev a resolution calling for political change based on protesters' demands.
According to the Interfax news agency, the text says the president-proposed reform bills submitted to the State Duma lower house of parliament "do not guarantee a true democratization of political life, and are largely a propaganda-tinged imitation."
Nemtsov, in comments on Russian Dozhd TV later on February 20, said opposition leaders pressed Medvedev to release from jail dozens of people whom the opposition considers "political prisoners."
"I handed a list of 37 political prisoners to Mr. Medvedev and suggested that he use his unique constitutional right to pardon these people," Nemtsov said. "This list includes [jailed oligarch Mikhail] Khodorkovsky and [Khodorkovsky's business partner Platon] Lebedev."
Opposition leaders also demanded that presidents be barred from serving three terms.
Putin, who served two terms as president between 2000 and 2008, is widely expected to win the March election.
Putin Set For First-Round Win
A survey conducted by Russia's state-run pollster shows Putin will win the March 4 election in the first round with 58.6 percent of the vote.
Valery Fyodorov, director-general of Russia's Public Opinion Research Center (VTsIOM), who announced the results of the survey at a press conference in Moscow on February 20, said the poll indicated that Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov would come second with 14.8 percent, followed by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky with of 9.4 percent of the vote."
The VTsIOM forecast was based on a poll of 1,600 respondents.
Putin, who has served two terms as president, officially won 53 percent in the 2000 election, and 71 percent in 2004.
Earlier this month, Putin acknowledged that he may face a second round, but he warned such a step would undermine Russia's political stability.
Compiled from agency reports