Thousands rally to urge Russia's Putin to resign

MOSCOW Sat Jan 30, 2010 1:08pm EST

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with his Kazakh counterpart Karim Masimov in Yalta, November 20, 2009. REUTERS/RIA Novosti/Alexei Nikolsky/Pool

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin looks on during a meeting with his Kazakh counterpart Karim Masimov in Yalta, November 20, 2009.

Credit: Reuters/RIA Novosti/Alexei Nikolsky/Pool

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MOSCOW (Reuters) - Up to 10,000 people rallied in the Russian Baltic enclave of Kaliningrad Saturday demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Vladimir Putin over living costs and unemployment, a rare show of anger with the popular figure.

Boris Nemtsov, a leader of opposition movement Solidarity, told Echo Moskvy radio people were protesting against a "25-30 percent" rise in utility bills and against high unemployment. He said the rally was organized by political parties, including the Communists.

"I believe this is a precursor to events likely to roll out over Russia," he said.

Russian authorities traditionally increase bills for housing, transportation, water and electricity after the New Year. This can stoke inflation which reached 1.7 percent for the first 25 days of January, exceeding official forecasts.

Despite signs of improvement, Russia remains mired in an economic crisis, with GDP contracting 8.9 percent in the third quarter from a year earlier and unemployment reaching 8.2 percent in December.

The Russian government has poured billions of dollars into the economy and supporting crisis-hit regions and towns.

Polls show Putin, the former president and a former intelligence officer, remains popular in Russia. A VTsIOM poll this month put his trust rating at 54 percent, the highest among politicians. President Dmitry Medvedev scored 42 percent.

(Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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