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Moscow Mayoral Candidates Hold First Debate


Moscow mayoral candidates gather ahead of the televised debate (from left: Ivan Melnikov, Aleksei Navalny, Sergei Mitrokhin, Mikhail Degtyaryov, and Nikolai Levichev)
Five of the six candidates in Moscow's mayoral race have held their first debate, focusing on the everyday problems residents of Russia's capital face.

Moscow's acting mayor and the front-runner in the polls, Sergei Sobyanin, refused to participate in the August 12 televised event, with a spokeswoman saying he would focus on "direct contact" with voters.

The opposition candidate from the RPR-PARNAS party, Aleksei Navalny, vowed during the debate to fight corruption and alleged that major Moscow infrastructure projects were being given to Russian President Vladimir Putin's friends.

"A great deal of money is simply being squandered. This is why we state in our program that when I'm elected mayor we will suspend the current 2013 budget until we have increased social payments to pensioners, families with many children, and people in need," he said.

The chairman of the A Just Russia party, Nikolai Levichev, spoke about lowering the price of parking in Moscow, promising to reduce hourly rates from 50 rubles ($1.50) to 20 rubles.

The other candidates taking part in the debate were Communist Party member Ivan Melnikov, State Duma deputy Mikhail Degtyaryov, and Yabloko chairman Sergei Mitrokhin.

Moscow's acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, was a no-show at the debate.
Moscow's acting mayor, Sergei Sobyanin, was a no-show at the debate.
Navalny spoke during the debate about "excessive Moscow immigration."

"We need a visa regime with countries of Central Asia and the South Caucasus," he said. "Germany and France have visa requirements for you and me, so it probably makes sense for us, too, to introduce visas. I don't understand why I need a visa to go to any European country but any citizen of Kyrgyzstan or Tajikistan can simply buy a one-way ticket and come here even without a passport for foreign travel."

Navalny attended the event just hours after he learned that Russia's Prosecutor-General's Office said it found evidence his mayoral campaign was receiving foreign funding.

According to the Prosecutor-General's Office, more than 300 named foreign donors and also anonymous donors from 46 countries gave money to Navalny and his campaign chiefs using the Russia-based Internet payment system Yandex.Money.

Navalny addressed the issue during the debate.

"Yandex.Money already stated today that the Prosecutor-General's Office is lying, particularly about foreign legal entities [contributing to my election campaign]," he said. "The Prosecutor-General's Office didn't even request any documents from Yandex. It's all done simply to divert attention from our investigations, including with regard to Sergei Sobyanin, but we will not stop them."

In a blog post last week, Navalny questioned how Sobyanin's teenage daughter could afford to own a $5.27 million Moscow apartment.

The mayor's press secretary told journalists that the apartment was given to Sobyanin by the presidential office in 2006 and later privatized. Questions are now being raised about how that privatization took place.

Last month, Navalny was convicted of embezzlement by a Kirov court and faces a five-year prison term. He says the charges were politically motivated and meant to silence his voice and derail his electoral ambitions.

Navalny remains free while his appeal is being considered.

Navalny gained prominence for his blogs targeting corruption in the government. He was the first to refer to Putin's United Russia party as "the party of swindlers and thieves," a phrase that has become a common refrain at opposition rallies.

Eleven more mayoral debates are planned before the September 8 poll.

With reporting by AFP, ITAR-TASS, and Interfax
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