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Putin hands Medvedev prime minister role amidst sustained unrest

Russia's new President Vladimir Putin (2nd R), his wife Lyudmila, former President Dmitry Medvedev (L) and his wife Svetlana speak during a reception dedicated to the start of Putin's term at the Kremlin in Moscow, May 7, 2012.


Russian police detained more than 20 people on Tuesday in a new crackdown on protests over Vladimir Putin's return as president as parliament rubber-stamped his ally Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister.

Mr. Medvedev's job swap with Mr. Putin has outraged many Russians, and police swooped on about 150 people who staged an all-night sit-in protest in a park near the Kremlin.

At least 22 were detained for not responding quickly enough to a police order to disperse because the park needed cleaning. Others just packed up their blankets and left.

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Before daybreak police also detained Alexei Navalny and Sergei Udaltsov, two of the most charismatic leaders of protests that have shaken Mr. Putin's authority in the past few months. Other protesters shouted "Shame on you!" as they were led away.

The protesters fear Mr. Putin's inauguration for a six-year term on Monday after four years as prime minister, and eight before that as president, heralds political and economic stagnation in the world's largest country.

Many Russians saw his choice of Mr. Medvedev, 46, as prime minister as a slap in the face for democracy that convinced them they have no say in how the country of more than 140 million is run.

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

Lawmakers in the State Duma, the lower house of parliament in which the Kremlin-allied United Russia party holds a majority of seats, met at 3 p.m. (1100 GMT) to debate and vote on Putin's nomination of his long-term ally as prime minister. The house approved Medvedev in a 299-144 vote.

Mr. Medvedev will be a less powerful prime minister than Mr. Putin, 59, who remained Russia's dominant leader as prime minister after steering his younger friend into the Kremlin in 2008 because of a constitutional bar on a third straight term as president.

They face a huge challenge to modernize the country, and launch reforms to reduce the $1.9-trillion economy's heavy dependence on energy exports, which makes Russia vulnerable to any reduction in the global price of oil.

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Mr. Putin, 59, set out their intentions on Monday by ordering the government to boost investment and shake up state-run industries to usher in a "new economy."

He set long-term goals that included raising capital investment to no less than 25 per cent of GDP in 2015, from the current level of 20 per cent, and to create 25 million high-productivity jobs by 2020.

Mr. Putin also called for a 50 per cent increase in labour productivity by 2018 and a 30 per cent increase in the share of high-tech products in the economy to reduce Russia's reliance on natural resources.

An array of decrees also set goals geared toward making life easier for ordinary Russians, including raising wages for state workers, making mortgages cheaper, expanding kindergartens and improving health care.

He and Mr. Medvedev face a battle to quell rivalries between liberals and conservatives, and Mr. Putin's choice over who joins the cabinet will go some way to showing how determined and able he is to push through reforms and privatization.

Both leaders say they want to attack red tape and bureaucracy and overhaul the armed forces. But after years of hearing such promises and not seeing them fulfilled, many Russians are frustrated that the same men are still ruling them.

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Mr. Putin's return was met by the first big opposition protest for two months on Sunday, a rally that ended in more than 400 detentions and clashes with the police on a square across the Moscow River from the Kremlin.

As Mr. Putin was taking his oath as president with a pledge to strengthen democracy and an appeal for unity, police were clearing central Moscow streets of peaceful protesters and detained another 300 people.

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