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Russian Communist Party Criticizes Putin on Anniversary of 1917 Revolution - 2003-11-07

With Russia's parliamentary elections a month away, political parties embarked on an electoral campaign, with the Communists and pro-Kremlin Unity Party leading the field.

Friday is the 86th anniversary of the Russian Revolution in 1917, and Russia's Communist party used the occasion to criticize President Vladimir Putin and his government.

Thousands of people carrying red flags marched through downtown Moscow, as they do every year on November 7, which was a key holiday during the Soviet period, but is now just a day off from work for most people.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov took the opportunity to denounce what he called the lack of democracy in Russia. A two-time presidential candidate, Mr. Zyuganov said Mr. Putin is now leading the country back into Soviet-style authoritarianism.

"After Stalin, there should be no more cult of personality in Russia," he said. "Look what is going on with Putin! He is not worth the cult of personality! He cannot solve even the simplest of tasks, just watch TV … It's terrible."

The Communists have won around 30 percent of the vote in elections held since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Mr. Zyuganov is likely to run a third time in presidential elections next March.

In another part of the city, the pro-Kremlin United Russia Party held a meeting to start its own campaign.

Party leader Boris Grizlov told assembled delegates the party is so strong that it doesn't need to take part in televised debates, called for by opposition parties.

"Today we see that not all parties try to solve real problems," he said. "Instead, our opponents get hysterical because we have refused to take part in TV debates. But, parties that don't have any weight in society aren't worthy of even holding debates with United Russia."

Smaller pro-reform liberal parties also began their campaigns Friday, with party leaders defending the giant oil company Yukos and its imprisoned former chairman, Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

His arrest nearly two weeks ago has unsettled Russian politics, as well as the economy, amid fears that legal action against the oil company may be an attack on big business in general.

Mr. Khodorkovsky openly gave money to the two main liberal parties, which is what most analysts believe got him into trouble with the Kremlin.

Critics say the Yukos case is a sign of increased authoritarian rule by Mr. Putin and allies from the intelligence services, whom the president brought into the Kremlin with him.

United Russia has a narrow lead over the Communist Party in opinion polls, which has raised the stakes in the outcome of the Duma vote next month.