Kremlin woos Russian opposition after Putin win

Vladimir Putin

The Kremlin held out an olive branch to Russia's opposition Monday before protesters take to the streets to challenge Vladimir Putin's victory in a presidential election they said was a "declaration of war."

Putin celebrated his victory on Sunday by telling tens of thousands of flag-waving supporters near the Kremlin that his triumph had saved Russia from enemies trying to usurp power.

The prime minister, who is returning to the post he held for eight years until ushering Dmitry Medvedev into the presidency in 2008, had tears in his eyes as he took aim in his speech at protesters opposing his 12-year-domination of Russia.

His opponents complained of widespread fraud in the ballot, in which the former KGB spy won more than 63 per cent of the vote, and said they would show their disgust by demonstrating in central Moscow Monday evening.

"He is forcing things to breaking point. He is declaring war on us," said journalist Sergei Parkhomenko, one of the protest organizers.

With Putin and the opposition on collision course, the Kremlin issued a statement that could be intended to take the sting out of the protests which began over alleged fraud in a parliamentary poll on December 4 and increasingly target Putin.

Medvedev, who will stay in office until early May and is expected to swap jobs with Putin, told the prosecutor general to study the legality of 32 criminal cases including the jailing of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

Khodorkovsky, who headed what was Russia's biggest oil company, Yukos, and was once the country's richest man, was arrested in 2003 and jailed on tax evasion and fraud charges after showing political ambitions and falling out with Putin.

The Kremlin said Medvedev had also told the justice minister to explain why Russia had refused to register a liberal opposition group, PARNAS, which has been barred from elections.

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