Putin slams foreign govts for sponsoring opposition

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MOSCOW, Nov 21 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin accused foreign governments today of sponsoring his political opponents in next month's election so as to weaken Russia and carry out ''dirty tricks'' against it.

''Unfortunately there are still those people in our country who still slink through foreign embassies ... who count on the support of foreign funds and governments but not the support of their own people,'' Putin told a cheering crowd of several thousands at a Moscow sports stadium.

''There are those confronting us, who do not want us to carry out our plans, because they have ... a different view of Russia. They need a weak and feeble state. They need a disorganised and disoriented society, a split society, so that they can carry out their dirty tricks behind its back.'' With Soviet-era songs blaring, the crowd waved flags and banners and chanted support for the 55-year-old leader, who is by far Russia's most popular politician after eight successive years of strong economic growth.

''Victory for Putin is victory for Russia!'' read a huge poster at the cavernous Luzhniki sports arena where supporters had massed for the latest in a series of pro-Putin events held across the country.

The event was organised by the ''For Putin'' movement, which aims to persuade the Kremlin chief to stay on as leader after his second term in office ends next year. The constitution prohibits a third consecutive term.

Putin, who wore a dark suit and black polo-neck sweater, did not mention his future plans, despite rumours in the Russian media that he might make a big announcement. He said only that the government would undergo ''complete renewal'' in coming months.

''Friends, in the elections on December 2, the fate of the country will in a significant way be decided,'' Putin added. ''Make sure you come and vote for United Russia.'' PUTIN'S ''MORAL RIGHT'' Putin is leading the list of candidates of the main pro-Kremlin party in the December elections to the State Duma (lower house of parliament). Opinion polls show more than 60 per cent of voters will back United Russia.

Putin has said the party's expected landslide win will give him a ''moral right'' to influence government even after he steps down, though he has not said how.

''Russia, Russia, Russia! We believe in ourselves, we believe in Russia!'', chanted supporters amid a sea of Russian tricolor flags as Soviet-era songs glorifying the Komsomol young communist league thundered from loudspeakers.

Putin himself has condemned the internal repression of the country's Stalinist past. A former agent for the old KGB state security, he also has described the collapse of the Soviet Union as the 20th's century's biggest geo-political catastrophe.

United Russia leaders were present at the gala, along with the rank-and-file Putin fans.

''I've come here today to show my support for Vladimir Putin and to make sure that he remains with us, remains our national leader,'' Irina Bleshchova, a 20-year-old journalism student and activist of the pro-Kremlin Nashi youth movement, told Reuters.

''Everyone is worried about what would happen if he left and what would then happen to the country. He will remain in politics. He will remain leader.'' Pavel Astakhov, a lawyer leading a nationwide movement called ''For Putin'' which urges Putin to stay on in some capacity, told Reuters ''this would be possible via parliament as that would allow him to influence all levels of power''.

Bleshchova said Putin was simply ''the ideal man''.

''I really love Vladimir Putin,'' she said. ''I would like my future husband to be like Vladimir Putin.'' REUTERS RJ KN1816

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