Russia's 'Putin to stay' camp gathers momentum

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MOSCOW, Oct 26 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin should find a way to stay on as Russian president after 2008, the head of parliament's upper house said today, citing rallies across Russia begging for Putin to remain in power.

Upper house speaker Sergei Mironov said he was working on ways to allow Putin to stay on in power that would not breach the constitution, which prevents presidents holding more than two consecutive terms in office.

Putin, 55, has vowed to step down after his second four-year terms ends in May 2008 in accordance with the constitution. But he has hinted that he will preserve influence after 2008 and refused to rule out running again for president in 2012.

He is running for parliament as the top candidate from the biggest pro-Kremlin party in December 2 elections and said this month he could become a future prime minister.

''Vladimir Putin holding this position legitimately would be a blessing for Russia and in my opinion there are certain formulas and ways for the current head of state to stay on in his post,'' Mironov told the Interfax news agency.

''Spontaneous meetings are going on in the country with calls for Vladimir Putin to stay on in his post,'' Mironov said.

Tens of thousands of Russians, many holding photographs of Putin and dressed in shirts saying ''Putin is our choice'', held meetings in regional cities this week calling for Putin to stay on in power.

Putin is by far Russia's most popular politician and has been feted for bringing political stability after the chaos of the 1990s and for presiding over the longest Russian economic boom for a generation.

Opponents say the Kremlin has crafted a personality cult that makes Putin, who is lionized on state-run television, seem like a modern Tsar who is the only guarantor of stability.

CHANGE THE CONSTITUTION? Mironov said he was working on a way to get around the constitution, which says: ''One and the same person may not be elected President of the Russian Federation for more than two terms running.'' ''Without changing the constitution there are algorithms and I am seriously thinking about this, moreover, I can say I am seriously working on it,'' said Mironov, a former geologist who has made his name by pushing for Putin to stay on in power.

Investors are sifting news reports for any clues about a changeover of power in Russia. Putin has said he will adhere to the word and spirit of the constitution.

But the former KGB spy has kept everyone from Kremlin insiders to US President George W Bush guessing.

Some observers say Putin's dominance of the political system, and his careful balancing of rival Kremlin clans, means that he could undermine stability if he left power.

Others say that if he stayed on in power, he would set Russia on the path to authoritarianism and future civil strife.

''People are very worried about what will happen after the 2008 spring elections,'' Mironov said. ''Lets say it the way it is: Putin is recognised as a world leader.'' REUTERS GT AS2122

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