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Putin Welcomes Public Protests As Sign That 'People Care'

Opposition supporters at a December 24 rally in Moscow protest alleged violations in recent parliamentary elections and the policies of current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.
Russian Prime Minister and presidential candidate Vladimir Putin says the wave of public protests that has hit Russia in recent months is a sign that "people care."

Putin also acknowledged that the March 4 election in which he is seeking a return to the Kremlin could advance to a second-round runoff.

But he warned that such an event could lead to what he described as political "destabilization."

Speaking to a group of Russian election observers in Moscow, Putin, who is widely seen as the favorite to win the election, referred to what he called Russia's "intense political struggles," saying such struggles should guide the government as it works to serve the public.

"I don't even want to work if there is no support. There is no point," Putin said. "That means that other people should try to do better. That means that our citizens would put the future of Russia in another pair of hands. And we would only have to help these people in solving the tasks that our country faces."

A series of massive public protests have been held in Moscow and other Russian cities in the wake of the country's December parliamentary elections, which many observers described as flawed.

Demonstrators are also protesting against Putin's bid for an unprecedented third term as president, accusing him of a monopoly on power and putting his own interests above those of the state.

In a sign of the discontent with Putin, an activist from the Solidarity opposition group on February 4 hung a large yellow banner with a slogan reading "Putin, Leave" from a building facing the Kremlin. The banner remained in place for more than two hours before being removed by police.

The activist, Pavel Yelizarov, told Reuters the banner was meant as a new way of getting the political opposition's message across.

"We realize that the authorities aren't listening to our protests, even after thousands of people have taken part in the rallies," Yelizarov said. "So we're looking for new forms of demanding that Putin leave office, because we think that 12 years of Putin's rule is more than enough for Russia."

A new survey by the Moscow-based Levada polling center shows that nearly 80 percent of Russians believe Putin will win the March vote. More than half said they thought he was likely to win in the first round on March 4. The survey was conducted between January 20 and January 23.

Compiled from agency reports