Putin throws birthday party in Kremlin tomorrow

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DUSHANBE, Oct 6 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is due to step down next year, said he would throw a farewell birthday party at the Kremlin tomorrow when he turns 55.

''I normally do not organise festivities to mark the event,'' Putin told reporters during a visit to Tajikistan today.

''But taking into account that my presidential term expires, I deemed it possible to invite to a Kremlin event tomorrow permanent members of my Security Council and the top military leadership including commanders of the military.'' Putin has traditionally celebrated his birthdays with a small circle of personal friends and close allies, often in his home town of St Petersburg.

This year, he was expected to mark his anniversary in Dushanbe with leaders of ex-Soviet republics, gathered there for a summit of their Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS).

Kremlin officials did not explain why Putin had apparently changed his mind.

Putin has presided over eight years of uninterrupted economic growth and sharply rising incomes, making him the most popular politician in Russia, although the West and liberal critics at home accuse him of rolling back on democracy and imposing tight controls over domestic media.

The constitution does not allow Putin, who has served two full terms in a row, to stand in a March 2008 presidential election. But he has made clear he plans to remain a strong political figure in Russia, possibly by becoming the Prime Minister.

Earlier this week, Putin agreed to head the campaign of the main pro-Kremlin party ahead of a December parliamentary election, a move that most analysts say is sure to give it a majority in the State Duma (lower house of parliament).

REUTERS PY RK2115

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