Russian nationalist party leader to step down

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Moscow, Mar 24: Dmitry Rogozin, leader of a Russian nationalist party, plans to resign under what activists say is pressure from a Kremlin disturbed by the group's popularity, a spokesman said today.

Rogozin helped Motherland (Rodina), initially conceived as a Kremlin tool to take votes from other parties and weaken opposition, to fourth place in the 2003 parliamentary elections.

But he later slipped out of Kremlin control, wooing voters with a heady mix of populist economics and anti-immigrant slogans, only to find his party excluded from running in major local elections.

''After a series of consultations with my political partners (which do not number the Kremlin) and advisers, I have taken the decision to leave all important posts in Motherland, including the post of party chairman,'' Rogozin said a statement published in the Kommersant daily.

Motherland spokesman Sergei Butin confirmed the report.

''This will not be popular but everyone understands it needs to be done. But the decision has been taken under crude pressure. This does not help democracy or freedom,'' Butin told Reuters by telephone.

However, commentators had predicted Rogozin would jump before he was pushed by party members who were becoming increasingly nervous of his independent line.

The Kremlin publicly denies conducting any vendetta against Motherland, but analysts have said its political managers are eager to neuter competitors of the loyalist United Russia party ahead of parliamentary elections next year.

VYING WITH PUTIN PARTY

Russian media have reported Kremlin officials as saying privately that they wanted the smooth-talking Rogozin to go. ''Kremlin officials admitted that they are doing everything possible to make Rogozin leave the party,'' wrote the Vedomosti daily.

Rogozin said he would announce his resignation officially at a party congress on Saturday, where he will recommend his no. 2, Duma deputy Alexander Babakov, as his successor.

Rogozin will remain a rank-and-file member of the party, but he gave no other details of his future plans.

The party was banned from December elections to the Moscow City Council, accused of using a racist campaign advert. Polls suggested it would have taken second place behind United Russia.

The television clip showed a blonde woman walking in Moscow surrounded by dark-skinned immigrants from ex-Soviet republics.

It ended with the slogan: ''Let's clean the city of rubbish.'' Motherland was excluded from seven high-profile regional polls earlier this month, after local courts ruled it had committed procedural violations.

It did however come second to United Russia in the Altai Republic in Siberia, the only region where it had not been taken off the ballot.

United Russia dominates both regional and national assemblies, trading on its close association with President Vladimir Putin and his government.

REUTERS

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