MOSCOW, May 7 (Marc Bennetts, RIA Novosti) – Vladimir Putin was sworn in as Russian president on Monday in a glittering Kremlin ceremony that took place less than 24 hours after protesters opposed to his rule had battled police in downtown Moscow.
“I swear on the power invested in me as president of the Russian Federation to respect and protect the rights and freedom of its citizens,” Putin said, his right hand placed on a red-bound copy of the Russian Constitution.
Russia’s nuclear suitcase was handed over to Putin immediately after his inauguration.
Putin’s motorcade had earlier sped through empty streets locked down by a heavy security presence on its way to the Kremlin State Palace, where some 2,000 guests had gathered to witness his inauguration for a six-year term. Those assembled included Putin’s handpicked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, and Patriarch Kirill, head of Russia’s powerful Orthodox Church. Former Italian prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, was also in attendance.
“We are entering a new stage of national development,” Putin said. “We want to live in a democratic country…in a successful Russia.”
Police made 120 arrests as some 200 people, including Yeltsin-era deputy prime minister Boris Nemtsov, protested Putin’s return to the presidency at separate locations near the Kremlin.
Putin was forced to step down in 2008 by a Constitution that forbids more than two subsequent terms, but is silent on further periods in office. He shifted to the post of prime minister after installing his hand-picked successor, Dmitry Medvedev, in the Kremlin, but remained by far Russia’s most powerful politician.
He won a landslide victory at March 4 presidential elections marred by allegations of vote fraud.
Medvedev said shortly before Putin’s inauguration that the authorities had become “more open to dialogue” during his four-year rule. Russia’s Constitution was amended in 2008 to increase the presidential term of office from four years to six.
Over 400 people were arrested and scores injured as Sunday’s rally against Putin’s rule turned violent when protesters briefly broke through police lines in a bid to take their protest to the Kremlin walls. Putin’s opponents accuse him of corruption and curtailing political freedoms.
Sunday’s rally followed a series of unprecedented mass anti-government protests this winter. Putin accused the United States of backing opposition leaders and dismissed demonstrators on national television as “Bandar-log,” a reference to the chattering monkeys of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book.