Luzhkov was sacked by Russia's president after 18 years as mayor of Moscow [EPA]

Moscow's ousted mayor has launched a scathing attack on Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian president, accusing him of promoting a climate of repression and censorship reminiscent of the Stalin era.

The extraordinary attack by Yury Luzhkov on Wednesday, was the bitterest by any leading figure in Russia against Medvedev, who a day earlier dramatically sacked Luzhkov after 18 years in power citing a loss of confidence.

Luzhkov's attack came in a letter sent to the Kremlin published on the website of the opposition weekly New Times magazine.

"In our country the fear of expressing your view has existed since 1937," Luzhkov said, referring to the peak of the repression and Great Terror under Soviet dictator Josef Stalin.

"If our leadership merely supports this fear with its statements... then it is easy to go to a situation where there is just one leader in the country whose words are written in granite and who must be followed unquestioningly.

"How does this stand with your calls for 'development of democracy'?" he asked the president.

He accused the Kremlin of pulling from the air a documentary on a Moscow television channel that countered several critical programmes on his rule on state television.

"This is nothing other than censorship," he said.

Luzhkov, who came to power in 1992 under Boris Yeltsin, the former president, is an unlikely champion of democracy.

The former mayor's comments are hardly likely to impress his own liberal critics who have accused the ex-mayor of sanctioning violent tactics against opposition rallies and extreme homophobia.

Medvedev has sought to promote himself as a reformist president who is encouraging the development of a strong democracy in Russia as part of a modernisation drive.

Mikhail Gorbachev, the former Soviet leader, said Luzhkov had been an effective mayor but had made the mistake of staying in power too long.

"In the first years he did a lot in a critical moment, he stabilised the social situation," he told a conference in Moscow.

"I have said many times that Muscovites were lucky. But time passed, and he started to change, he got a big head."

'Bold move'

Luzhkov's dismissal was seen by analysts as one of Medvedev's boldest moves since coming to power in 2008 and aimed at eliminating a potentially tricky opponent ahead of 2012 presidential elections.

Luzhkov's ruthless dismissal was immediately effective and Russian news agencies reported on Wednesday that he was seen returning to his office to move out possessions early in the morning.

"I will need several days to pick up my personal things. My awards alone take up several cupboards," he told Interfax.

Medvedev appointed Luzhkov's ageing deputy Vladimir Resin, as acting mayor in his place but observers believe it unlikely he will remain permanently and that the Kremlin is already casting the net
for a successor.

Names aired in the press have included powerful Igor Shuvalov and Sergei Ivanov, the deputy prime ministers, but the Kremlin will be careful not to allow any potential opponent to create his own
powerbase.

Source: Agencies