Russian leaders celebrate 'Victory Day'
President Putin and PM Medvedev attend rally commemorating end of World War II amid criticism over job swap.
Last Modified: 09 May 2012 11:13
Russia's lower house of parliament confirmed former president Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister [Reuters]

Newly inaugurated Russian President Vladimir Putin presided over a World War II victory parade in Moscow's Red Square, a day after he finalised a job swap with former president and new prime minister Dmitry Medvedev.

Putin watched Wednesday's "Victory Day" military parade from the stands alongside Medvedev, who won parliamentary approval to become prime minister in accordance with the swap agreement first announced in September.

Over 14,000 servicemen marched alongside nuclear-capable missiles to commemorate the 67th anniversary of the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany.

"We will always be true to your feat," Putin told veterans.

He reinforced Russia's key role in winning World War II and said his country will stand up for its positions.

"Russia consistently carries out a politics of strengthening security in the world and we have a great moral right to stand up for our positions in a principled and determined way," he said.

However, a growing number of Russians have come out against the two leaders' grip on power.

Police led away more than 20 people, including two opposition leaders, when they broke up a peaceful protest near the Kremlin hours before the vote, after detaining more than 700 on the previous two days to keep a lid on dissent.

"They just started to grab people and put them in police buses," said Alexander Delfinov, 40, who was held for hours and ordered to appear in court on Friday, facing a fine or up to 15 days in jail.

Activists regrouped later and were chased around central Moscow by police who hemmed them in and detained dozens more.

In Twitter posts from police vans, prominent opposition activist Alexei Navalny and Ksenia Sobchak, a television host who has fallen out with Putin, said they were among those detained.

Confirmation vote

Medvedev's confirmation vote on Tuesday in the State Duma, the lower house of the Russian parliament, was held under tight security, with camouflage-clad riot police guarding the building near Red Square and police trucks and buses parked nearby.

Medvedev stood and nodded to deputies to show his gratitude and then shook hands with Putin. The president smiled and applauded the outcome of the vote, one day after he was sworn in as president for a six-year term.

"I thank you for showing your trust in me," Medvedev told the assembly. "I am absolutely sure that if we work together we can achieve results."

Medvedev pledged wholesale changes in the line-up of the government, without naming any of his cabinet, but said the new team would be one of continuity, pursuing a similar direction to its predecessor under Putin.

He also promised to be open to dialogue with his political opponents, though it was not clear whether he had in mind the non-parliamentary opposition, which has organised the biggest protests since Putin first rose to power in 2000.

'Slap in the face'

Putin's opponents question the legitimacy of his victory in the March presidential election and say his choice of Medvedev as premier is a slap in the face for democracy.

"Everything as always has been decided without consulting the people ... People don't like this," said Ilya Ponomaryov, one of the organisers of protests that were triggered by allegations of electoral fraud last December.

Nikolai Levichev, a senior member of the Just Russia party, criticised the lack of political reform during Medvedev's presidency and said many of the promises he had made - such as on battling corruption and strengthening the independence of the judiciary - had not been fulfilled.

Putin, 59, gave a brief speech to the Duma presenting Medvedev as an experienced politician who had served Russia well as president and would not let the country down now.

The pair worked together in the St Petersburg city administration in the 1990s, and Putin, who has dominated Russian politics since the beginning of the 21st century, steered the younger man into the Kremlin in 2008 when he was barred from a third successive presidential term himself.

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