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Putin Shows Dominance in Call-In Program

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By MIKE ECKEL
The Associated Press
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 2:22 PM

MOSCOW -- Vladimir Putin's annual TV call-in show revealed just how far Russian politics have become a one-man show.

Over the three-hour session Thursday, Putin showcased the booming economy, belittled America's troubles in Iraq and pledged to modernize the armed forces _ implicitly projecting himself as the man who has restored Russia to greatness.

The tightly choreographed event underscored a dominance that had led many people to predict he plans to remain in control even after giving up the presidency next year.

Putin, who is wildly popular among Russians for the stability and relative prosperity he helped engineer, has used his five previous call-in shows, along with lavish television coverage of his travels and speeches, to project an image of a leader responding directly to voters' concerns.

Some observers said Putin's comments essentially were campaign rhetoric, designed to whip up votes for his United Russia party and telling voters exactly what they want to hear _ pensions are rising, military spending is going up, the economy is strengthening.

He sought to reassure the public about his departure, saying his successor should "keep the stable course of our nation and continuity in realizing the plans that have been devised in recent years."

None of the nearly 50 questions he tackled directly asked outright about his plans for the future. But his message of continuity may have been a signal that his dominance will continue after next year.

On Thursday, Putin again reaffirmed he would step down as president next May. But he has left the door open to becoming prime minister, recently announcing that he will head United Russia's election list in the December parliamentary elections.

A polished public speaker, Putin occasionally read from handwritten notes during the broadcast, reeling off economic and demographic statistics and military data and gesturing and pointing with a pen as if he were delivering a university lecture.

But he appeared less jovial than in previous years and few of his answers broke new ground or reflected new policies.

Questions came from teachers, students, scientists, farmers and doctors from across Russia's 11 time zones _ starting in the nation's Far East and ending in the western European frontier.

Most were non-confrontational, focusing on bread-and-butter issues like pensions or public sector funding. It was impossible, however, to tell whether those asking had been screened or coached ahead of time. One woman caller thanked Putin profusely _ without asking a question.


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