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Moscow Mayor Faces Increasing Pressure to Quit on 74th Birthday

Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov faces increasing pressure to resign as he celebrates his 74th birthday in Austria with his billionaire wife, Yelena Baturina.

President Dmitry Medvedev’s administration decided that Luzhkov must be replaced and gave him one week to step down voluntarily, the Moscow-based newspaper Vedomosti reported today, citing unidentified Kremlin officials. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin’s government told Luzhkov to decide within two to three weeks what new post he would like, Vedomosti said.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a deputy speaker in Russia’s lower house of parliament, said Muscovites demand Luzhkov’s ouster. “They sought help and support from you, but instead they were left to live out their days in poverty and smog,” Zhirinovsky said today on the website of his Liberal Democratic Party.

Luzhkov, who has weathered past clashes with the federal government, is facing his biggest challenge since becoming mayor of Europe’s largest city in 1992. The Russian capital is a crucial prize in any national election, and Luzhkov has consistently delivered large majorities for Medvedev and Putin. Russia will hold presidential elections in March 2012.

Medvedev’s spokeswoman Natalya Timakova declined to comment on the Vedomosti report. Sergei Tsoi, a spokesman for Luzhkov, also declined to comment.

National media have directed a series of critical reports against Luzhkov and Baturina, head of development company ZAO Inteco, during the past three weeks, accusing the mayor of corruption and favoritism toward his wife.

Leaders ‘Pretending’

Baturina said “several functionaries” in the Kremlin had ordered the reports to force Medvedev to fire the mayor. Her comments, published yesterday by Moscow-based magazine The New Times, were confirmed by Inteco.

Putin has said nothing publicly about the attacks on Luzhkov or media speculation about his resignation. Medvedev has made only veiled critical remarks.

“This is an attempt to force him to make a decision that he isn’t ready to make because there’s simply no basis for it,” Baturina said, referring to Medvedev. “I don’t understand why both of the country’s top leaders are pretending that nothing is going on.”

Luzkhov is celebrating his birthday in the Austrian alpine resort of Kitzbuhel, the Interfax news service reported. Zhirinovsky, a nationalist politician who has run three unsuccessful campaigns for the presidency, speculated Sept. 19 that Luzhkov wouldn’t return from his vacation.

Sergei Mironov, head of the Federation Council, the upper house of Russia’s parliament, joined Luzhkov’s critics today, saying that negative media reports came as “no surprise” to Moscow residents, Interfax reported.

Mironov said “too many complaints” have built up against Luzhkov during his tenure as mayor, the Moscow-based news service reported. Luzhkov has been able to make unpopular decisions because of his “unlimited power over the city,” Interfax said, citing Mironov.

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