Monday, May 7, 2012

Putin to be sworn in as president of divided Russia

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin will be sworn in as Russia's president at a glittering ceremony on Monday, hours after clashes between police and protesters laid bare the deep divisions over his return to the Kremlin for six more years.

The former KGB spy will take his oath before nearly 2,000 guests in the Kremlin's St Andrew Hall, the former throne room with sparkling chandeliers, gilded pillars and high Gothic vaults, before being blessed by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church and taking charge of the nuclear suitcase.

He will also deliver a short speech, inspect the Kremlin presidential guard and host a lavish reception featuring only Russian food and drink.

Although he has remained Russia's supreme leader for the past four years as prime minister, Putin will take back the formal reins of power he ceded to his ally Dmitry Medvedev in 2008 after eight years as president.

He is returning with his authority weakened by months of protests that have polarized Russia and left him facing a battle to reassert himself or risk being sidelined by the powerful business and political elites whose backing is vital.

Riot police detained at least 22 protesters when a crowd of about 40 people started shouting "Russia without Putin" near two exclusive hotels 500 meters from the Kremlin on Monday, a Reuters witness said. Bystanders shouted "Shame" as they did so.

"This shows that Putin is scared of dissatisfied citizens. Although there are not so many of us, there are not so few either," said 18-year-old student Pavel Kopilkov. Learn More...

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