Jeers, boos greet Putin at sporting event

Waning magic

The boos and whistles that greeted the Russian prime minister when he stepped into the ring and took the microphone at a martial arts event in Moscow on Sunday may have given him a shock.

They come amid a sense of fatigue with Putin in the runup to a March presidential election which is almost certain to give him at least six more years as Kremlin leader.

In video footage posted on the Internet, fans can be heard shouting and whistling as Putin is handed the microphone in the ring of Olympiysky Stadium. Allowing just a blink of bewilderment as he peers around the stadium, Putin presses on to congratulate fighter Fyodor Yemelyanenko’s victory over an American rival. One fan screams “leave” as Putin speaks.

Still popular

Opinion polls show the former KGB spy is still Russia’s most popular politician, and organisers said in a statement they did not believe he was the target of the jeers. If he was, he has never been heckled by so many.

“Even though it is clear that a part of the audience was cheering, a significant part was no doubt jeering Putin,” said Konstantin von Eggert, a commentator for Kommersant FM radio.

“We have never seen anything like this on this scale before. It is a symptom that some in Russian society are tired of Putin’s image.”

Russian blogger Alexei Navalny said it was the end of an era in which there had been a taboo on voicing or broadcasting unrehearsed public discontent at Russia’s paramount leader.

Polls show Putin’s ruling party is likely to win a parliamentary election on December 4 and that he is almost certain to win the March presidential election. Many Russians still admire the man who first became president in 2000.

“What do I think of Putin? Only the best, and nothing has changed since the announcement of his running for presidency,” said Yelena, a 24-year-old law student in Moscow.

But the outburst at the Olympiysky Stadium seems to reflect a weariness among voters with the macho image of a leader who has already ruled Russia for almost 12 years.

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