Russia's top court keeps Putin in Duma race

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MOSCOW, Nov 20 (Reuters) The Supreme Court today cleared the way for President Vladimir Putin to lead the United Russia party in parliamentary elections that could extend his political grip on Russia after he steps down.

The court rejected a suit filed by a small party which says it represents urban, educated and liberal Russians, the Union of Right-Wing Forces (SPS), which said Putin's name on the party list was a constitutional violation and should not be allowed.

Putin said in October he would head the list of candidates for Russia's biggest political party expecting that its victory in Dec.

2 elections could give him an instrument to influence politics after he quits as president next year.

''The Supreme Court decided to leave the SPS plea to cancel the registration of Vladimir Putin,'' the judge announced after a day of deliberation.

''The decision can be appealed within five days.'' The SPS had accused Putin of ''repeated violations of the law'', saying the Kremlin's huge influence on domestic politics made life hard for the opposition.

The Kremlin has rejected such charges.

APPEAL EXPECTED ''We are happy with today's decision,'' Vladimir Pligin, a senior United Russia member told journalists after the meeting. ''The court has examined thoroughly all arguments before coming out with the ruling.

The SPS is one of dozens of Russian political parties, which have lost parliamentary seats and most of their influence during Putin's eight-year presidency.

Putin's decision to head United Russia's campaign has all but killed their chances in the election.

''We will indeed appeal against today's decision because we see many violations of law in it,'' Boris Nadezhdin, one of the SPS leaders told reporters.

Opinion polls suggest United Russia, personally patronised by Putin who is very popular nationwide, will win about 60 percent of the vote in the election.

Putin said last week that United Russia's landslide win would give him a ''moral right'' to influence government after he steps down next year.


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