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Mikhail Gorbachev to head new democratic political movement in Russia

The Associated Press
Saturday, October 20, 2007

MOSCOW: Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev on Saturday was elected head of a new political movement founded, he said, to help bring democratic principles to Russia.

The movement, called the Union of Social Democrats, is the second political grouping that Gorbachev has headed in the past three years.

Gorbachev, 76, told about 200 delegates attending the founding meeting that the new movement would seek to rid the country of "extreme political forces" and help promote liberal values, Russian news agencies reported.

The new effort is unlikely to attract much support from other Russian liberals, who are famously fractious and divided.

Moreover, Gorbachev is widely loathed in Russia, blamed for the years of economic and social turmoil that followed the Soviet collapse — even as he is still admired around the world for his work in ending the Cold War.

In 2001, Gorbachev helped found the Social Democratic Party of Russia, but resigned three years later in a disagreement with the leadership about working more closely with the Kremlin-backed United Russia party. The Social Democratic party later was one of several ordered closed by the Supreme Court under new registration rules — rules critics say are intended to help the Kremlin consolidate power.

President Vladimir Putin, meanwhile, is wildly popular among Russians despite growing criticism that his government along with Kremlin-backed parties have squeezed any opposition out of the country's political arena.

Gorbachev rarely criticizes Putin publicly, though recently he has made a series of statements expressing concern about state of democracy in Russia.



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