Russian groups call for Putin to stay president

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MOSCOW, Nov 9 (Reuters) Dozens of political regional groups that have called for Vladimir Putin to stay on as Russia's president after 2008 plan to unite into a national movement, a senior member of the Moscow movement said today.

Putin says he will step down as president when his second -- and last -- four-year term ends in 2008 but local groups have rallied across Russia calling for him to find a way of staying.

The Kremlin chief is running as the top candidate from United Russia, the biggest party in parliament, in a December. 2 parliamentary election and has said he could become a future prime minister.

But for many of his supporters that is not enough.

The regional groups -- which spread from the Far East to Moscow -- should be formed into a nationwide movement at a meeting later this month, said Artur Savelov, a member of the Moscow ''For Putin'' group.

He said they are pushing to find a way for Putin to get around the 1993 constitution, which forbids more than two consecutive presidential terms in office.

''We will try to do everything so that Vladimir Vladimirovch Putin changes his decision (to leave) and remains as president,'' Savelov said by telephone.

When asked about constitutional limitations, he said: ''What is the constitution, the people make the constitution, it is from 1993 and many years have passed, the country has changed.'' The movement for Putin to stay on as president has puzzled many observers who are searching for any clues about how the transition to a new Kremlin leader could be carried out.

Some say the calls are a genuine attempt by senior advisers to convince the former KGB spy that he must stay in power.

Others say it is an attempt to boost United Russia's popularity ahead of December parliamentary elections.

PUTIN'S POPULARITY Putin remains by far Russia's most popular politician and United Russia has taken every opportunity to stress its dependence on Putin.

The party says its aim is to implement Putin's policies, its election manifesto is called the ''Putin plan'' and Putin announced he would run for parliament at the party's conference.

Putin's supporters say he has brought order to Russia after the chaos which accompanied the fall of the Soviet Union and helped the longest Russian economic boom for a generation.

Opponents say Putin has allowed the growth of a personality cult that makes him the strong-man guarantor of stability.

''Putin is not only the guarantor of stability, he is a man of affairs,'' Savelov said. ''Do you not see how the country has changed since the 1990s, Putin has helped Russia get up from her knees.'' Savelov denied any links to the Kremlin or to United Russia and said the groups calling for Putin to stay simply expressed the will of the people.

''This is from the people this is not the Kremlin and I am not a member of any party -- it is definitely not from United Russia,'' he said.

REUTERS YA RK2104

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