Moscow govt puts up Stalin posters despite outcry

MOSCOW, May 5 (Reuters) - The Moscow city government put up small posters of Soviet dictator Josef Stalin around the capital on Wednesday despite an outcry from some officials and rights activists over some efforts to rehabilitate him.

Overriding fears of publicity that would diminish the atrocities committed under Stalin's rule, the images form part of celebrations the city is preparing for the 65th anniversary of the end of World War Two on May 9 -- Victory Day in Russia.

Moscow's government last month proposed displaying the plastic black-and-white portraits of Stalin, about 10 inches (25 cm) long and 7 inches wide, surrounded by his marshals who are credited with leading the Soviet Union to victory in 1945.

While some of the posters are within exhibits about World War Two, others went on show just outside the museums.

Their public display was immediately condemned by prominent Russian human rights group Memorial.

"Let this lie on the museum director's conscience... The new Russia must distance itself from the crimes Stalin committed," Interfax news agency quoted Memorial's Yan Rachinsky as saying.

A public transport bus in St Petersburg travelled on Wednesday through the centre of Russia's second city with a portrait of the moustachioed leader on its side, while other portraits appeared in the Far East city of Vladivostok, local media said.

Rights campaigners have been alarmed by what they characterise as an attempt by some officials -- especially during the 2000-2008 presidency of Vladimir Putin -- to play down Stalin-era atrocities by focusing on his achievements.

Putin, a former KGB agent who now serves as prime minister, has praised Stalin for creating the Soviet industrial powerhouse and for winning the Second World War, but also criticised his vast purges of opponents.

Western historians estimated that 30-60 million people died in Soviet gulag labour camps, in executions and during famine under Stalin. Russian officials put the figure simply in the millions.

President Dmitry Medvedev has condemned Stalin's rule and said last October he was concerned that most young Russians were unaware of the scope of Stalin's oppression. He said the crimes of the past should not be forgiven.

Many Russians were shocked last year when Stalin's grandson, Yevgeny Dzhugashvili, sought damages from a newspaper and a radio station for comments that he had ordered the deaths of innocents. The lawsuits followed a refurbishment of a Moscow metro station with a decoration heaping praise on Stalin.

Reporting by Amie Ferris-Rotman; Editing by Mark Heinrich