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Gorbachev supports Putin, criticizes United Russia

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Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Thursday he supported the incumbent Russian president but disliked the ruling party whose ballot Vladimir Putin is leading in parliamentary elections.
MOSCOW, November 29 (RIA Novosti) - Former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev said Thursday he supported the incumbent Russian president but disliked the ruling party whose ballot Vladimir Putin is leading in parliamentary elections.

Russia has made significant progress toward prosperity and stability under Putin's nearly eight-year presidency. However, human rights advocates in Russia and abroad have criticized the Kremlin for tightening its grip on democracy and human rights ever since Vladimir Putin became president in 2000.

"I am on Putin's side. I do not hold high respect toward the State Duma [the lower house of parliament]. But I think Putin has rendered great service to Russia," Gorbachev told a news conference in Moscow.

Gorbachev, 76, whose policies of glasnost and perestroika jump-started democratic reforms in Russia but led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, harshly criticized the ruling United Russia party for questionable practices in the ongoing parliamentary election campaign.

United Russia, which is the odds on favorite to win Russia's upcoming elections to the lower house of parliament set for December 2, earlier refused to hold televised debates with its rivals, and chose to air its own commercials during the allotted time.

"I dislike this party, it is not a people's party," the ex-Soviet leader said.

Gorbachev also criticized Russian authorities' decision to jail opposition leader Garry Kasparov for five days for taking part in a protest march.

"Locking Kasparov up for five days - to me this looks like disproportionate measures," he said.

Gorbachev blamed Moscow police over the incident.

Chess grandmaster Kasparov was arrested in central Moscow on Saturday while leading a march of opposition group The Other Russia, which comprises the People's Patriotic Union, led by former premier Mikhail Kasyanov, the banned National Bolshevik Party, headed by writer Eduard Limonov, as well as Kasparov's United Civil Front.

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