Russian communists say Putin more powerful than Tsar

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MOSCOW, Sep 22 (Reuters) The leader of Russia's Communist Party accused President Vladimir Putin today of piling up vast powers and said the Kremlin's main party represented billionaires rather than ordinary people.

''He (President Vladimir Putin) has more power today than the Pharaoh of Egypt, the Tsar, and the Soviet Union's General Secretary combined,'' veteran Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov told a party congress on the outskirts of Moscow.

''He has four times more power than the quite powerful president of the United States,'' said Zyuganov, whose party is the country's number two political force with 162,000 members.

Zyuganov said his party, the successor to the all-powerful Soviet Communists, hoped to win at least a fifth of seats in elections this December for the State Duma (lower house of parliament). It currently has just over 10 per cent of deputies.

The Duma is dominated by United Russia, a party patronised by Putin, which enjoys a two-thirds majority.

Zyuganov said he was the only real opponent of the Kremlin and added he was gaining new supporters as voters were getting bored with unfulfilled promises from United Russia, which he said represented the rich, with over 30 billionaires among its Duma members.

''They (United Russia) have billionaires. We have millions (of supporters) behind us,'' he added.

The December elections will be closely watched as a dress rehearsal for a presidential vote next March.

The most recent poll by the independent Yuri Levada Centre showed this week that the Communists could gain 18 percent of seats in December, while United Russia would secure 55 percent.

Another pro-Kremlin party, Fair Russia, would get seven percent and the nationalist LDPR, which often votes with the government, would gain 11 percent.

The Communists used to dominate the Duma in the 1990s during the turbulent years of Boris Yeltsin's presidency.

But as Russia's oil-fuelled economy booms, the Communists face a tough political challenge to win back popularity.

The Communists have complained they are not getting a fair share of airtime on television, which is dominated by pro-Kremlin parties. However Putin met Zyuganov this week to discuss the elections and Zyuganov's speech today was aired live on the state television channel Vesti-24.

MOOD LIFTED BY WINS Zyuganov said the mood in the Communists' camp had been lifted by wins this year in regional elections, which he said had shown that the dominance of United Russia can be broken.

''In (the east Siberian region of) Krasnoyarsk, where the results usually coincide with the whole country, we had 20-22 percent. And in some regions we had over 30 per cent. Let's be guided by these figures...,'' he told delegates.

He also denounced analysts' observations that his electorate was shrinking as it was mostly composed of elderly people.

''The most educated part of our society is voting today for the Communists. And young people are turning up every day,'' he said, adding that his goal was to win the undecided votes.

Today, Zyuganov again denounced what he termed a ''black propaganda'' campaign to discredit himself by falsely accusing him of excessive drinking and paying a huge bill for an adult pay TV channel while on holiday in Ukraine.

Zyuganov did not run for president in 2004 when Putin was re-elected by more than 70 per cent of votes. The outspoken Communist did not say if he would run for president in March 2008, when Putin must step down after two consecutive terms.

Putin, who has huge influence over voters because of his very high poll ratings, has yet to say whom he will back.

REUTERS SBC KP1850

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