With a mass pro-democracy rally scheduled in Moscow on Saturday, Russias prime minister Vladimir Putin has been mocked on national television following widespread allegations of vote rigging by the party he created, United Russia, in this months parliamentary elections. The satirical attitude taken by current affairs show Central TV on NTV — owned by national natural gas monopoly Gazprom — is a departure from TV channels normally slavish devotion to Putin and the Kremlin. Putin, who served two terms as president, brought national media under firm political control after he took over from Boris Yeltsin in 2000, wresting control of key broadcasters from political opponents that included Boris Berezovsky, who now lives in self-imposed exile in London. Putin is running for a third term as president in elections next March. Under the Russian constitution he could serve a further two terms, totalling 12 years. His performance last week on his annual national televised public phone-in show, which ran for a record four hours and 32 minutes, suggests his presidential bid may not be a walkover. Central TV poked fun at Putins telethon performance last Sunday. Just a few weeks ago, the same channel ran a hatchet job on independent pro-democracy organization Golos, which many observers believe had been ordered by the Kremlin. Sundays show opened with opinion poll statistics showing that just 44% of Russians supported Putin compared with over 70% three years ago. It also poked fun at a 90% price cut for an erotic calendar produced for his birthday last year by young female admirers. The calendar, Vladimir Vladimorich, We Love You had been on sale for around $3 but was now priced at just 30 cents, presenter Vadim Takmenev said. The 10-minute show ran footage of Putin being heckled last month at a sporting event and compared him to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Central TV also aired Putins remarks suggesting that 50,000 pro-democracy demonstrators who came out on the streets of Moscow, St. Petersburg and other cities on Dec. 10 to demand a rerun of elections marred by widespread fraud were in the pay of foreigners.
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