Campaigners urge Putin's wife to run for president

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MOSCOW, Nov 17 (Reuters) A Russian women's movement has urged President Vladimir Putin's wife Lyudmila to run for the presidency next year when her husband steps down but some politicians said they believed the move was a stunt, a newspaper reported today.

Russia's media-shy first lady has never shown any political ambition, but the idea is the latest in a series of proposals put forward by the popular Russian president's supporters to preserve his influence after his second term ends.

A movement based on Russia's Pacific coast, called the Women of Vladivostok, appealed to the first lady to follow the example of Argentina, where Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner was elected last month as president from her husband Nestor.

A separate informal movement whose slogan is ''Za Putina'' -- ''For Putin'' -- has in the past few weeks staged rallies across the country urging Putin to stay on in some capacity. Putin's critics say the rallies are not spontaneous but stage-managed by officials.

Kommersant quoted regional politicians in Vladivostok as saying they believed the campaign to elect the first lady was a publicity stunt by the Women of Vladivistok group, which is running in a local election next month.

''Lyudmila is an ideal wife and is also socially very active,'' Kommersant newspaper quoted the movement as saying in an open letter. ''She represents our country with dignity during the president's trips abroad. De facto, she is already an experienced politician,'' it said.

The movement said Lyudmila's election would give Russians the best guarantee of political continuity and prolonged economic stability.

Russia's constitution bars a president from serving more than two consecutive terms. Putin says he will respect that and step aside for a new president. He has said he will retain influence, but has not disclosed in what capacity.

Opinion polls show most Russians would be ready to support whichever candidate for the presidency Putin endorses. But Lyudmila, a former school-teacher and mother of two girls, has so far never featured in any mainstream poll.

Putin has said he may consider becoming prime minister after March 2008. He is also running in a Dec 2 parliamentary election and some analysts say he may seek to make parliament his new power base.

REUTERS PD BST2008

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