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Russian presidential campaign kicks off
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A one-month-long media campaign officially began Saturday ahead of Russia's March 2 presidential elections.

Russia's First Channel, the Russia TV Company and the TV Center as well as Mayak, Radio Russia and Voice of Russia will grant free air time to advertising spots and TV debates.

The ruling United Russia party, which has nominated First Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev as its candidate, published its election program – "Putin's Plan, the Great Country's Worthy Future" – in the national Rossiiskaya Gazeta newspaper.

The Plan to develop Russia as a unique civilization, boosting its economy, improving people's lives through massive and extensive national projects for social development, supporting civil society, strengthening national sovereignty and defense capabilities as well as ensuring Russia a proper role in the multi-polar world arena.

In the plan, the party vowed to build Russia as a great power "on the basis of historic traditions and the distinctive cultural values of its peoples and the best world civilization achievements."

"The Russia we choose is a strong democratic and socially-oriented state. It is a free, just and spiritually united society," according to the plan. "It is an innovative economy able to compete. It is a high quality of life for its citizens."

Medvedev, who has been publicly endorsed as his handpicked successor by the popular incumbent President Vladimir Putin, enjoys high popularity across the country and is the clear front-runner in the election campaign.

The other three candidates are Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, head of the Russian Liberal-Democratic Party Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Chairman of the Russian Democratic Party Andrei Bogdanov.

The state-run VTsIOM opinion center forecast on January 31 that Medvedev, who has been working along with Putin since the early 1990s, would receive 74.8 percent of the votes, Zyuganov would obtain 12.8 percent, Zhirinovsky 11.5 percent and Bogdanov a mere 0.9 percent.

Medvedev's campaign team, headed by Kremlin chief of staff Sergei Sobyanin, is planning an "ascetic" campaign, the Moscow Times newspaper quoted a United Russia official as saying, who declined to give his name.

Medvedev has refused to take part in TV debates, saying he will continue his daily job.

"This is not only because the other candidates are not serious competitors. It was the wish of Medvedev himself," the official said.

Analysts, however, said Medvedev's relatively quiet campaign is to avoid overtaking the popularity of his boss and close ally Putin, who wants to remain his influence after stepping down in May.

In fact, Medvedev has been dominating television news broadcasts, mostly alongside Putin, ever since the president publicly gave him the nod as his preferred successor last December.

Zyuganov's team threatened to quit the campaign after Medvedev rejected the TV debates but later pledged not to withdraw from the presidential race, despite media restrictions and an alleged intimidation campaign.

Zyuganov and Zhirinovsky launched their campaigns by publishing open letters and campaign outlines in national newspapers such as the Komsomol Pravda on Saturday. Officials for Zhirinovsky's campaign said 60 different television advertisements will be broadcast in support of him.

(Xinhua News Agency February 3, 2008)

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