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Long-standing mayor of Moscow facing dismissal

Moscow mayor Yuri Luzhkov is facing a smear campaign and rumors of impending dismissal. It appears the Kremlin has had enough of the man who has been in charge of the city since 1992.

Moscow in the mist

Clouds are gathering for Moscow's Yuri Luzhkov

After 18 years at the helm of the Russian capital, Yuri Luzhkov appears to be nearing the end of his tenure under an increasing wave of criticism, which has ballooned in a televised smear campaign on a scale rarely seen in Russia.

Luzhkov is variously accused of corruption, of ignoring people's needs, of going on holiday during the summer heat wave, and of helping his wife, Yelena Baturina, become one of the country's richest woman. She reputedly has a fortune of 2 billion euros (2.6 billion dollars).

Kremlin officials, speaking anonymously, have strongly hinted that Luzhkov should resign. There are suggestions that the reason for the animosity is that Russian President Dmitry Medvedev is worried that the mayor is too close to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. But Luzhkov has dismissed the idea that he is trying to draw a wedge between the two men, saying "only some hotheads can think that Moscow is trying to create divisions."

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"It is stupid, it is dirt, it is a kind of porridge, brought together with the aim to put pressure on the mayor," Luzhkov said. "They don't like me, my policies, my work, my point of view. Apparently someone was not happy with some of the things I did and said, with my independence. I don't even want to mention who this could be.''

Yelena Baturina, the mayor's wife, is more forthright. In an interview with the New Times weekly, she said the presidential administration is behind the attacks. According to her, the president is afraid that Luzhkov will back Putin if he runs for the presidential elections in 2012.

Putin full of praise for the mayor

Putin reportedly sent Luzhkov a telegram on Tuesday, congratulating him on his birthday. He called the mayor "a competent and experienced professional, full of energy, with great organizational skills," and wished him "success in his responsible job."

In spite of Putin's wish, Russian media reports suggest Luzhkov is facing an ultimatum by the Kremlin, and that within a week he must step down. If not, he will be sacked. By law, the president must approve any new Moscow mayor, one of the most important jobs in Russia.

Meanwhile police dispersed a gay rights protest in Moscow on Tuesday, detaining at least eight activists calling for the resignation of the mayor. Luzhkov has previously called gay people "satanic" and routinely thwarted their attempts to rally in Moscow.

Author: Joanna Impey (AP/dpa/Reuters)
Editor: Andreas Illmer

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