Birthday that stops a nation
VLADIMIR PUTIN turns 60 today but what does one get the man who has everything?
VLADIMIR PUTIN turns 60 today but what does one get the man who has everything?On previous birthdays, he has been given tiger cubs and calendars featuring scantily clad women. He has celebrated with his old friends and former statesmen Silvio Berlusconi and Gerhard Schroder.This year, as he faces an unprecedented challenge from tens of thousands of opposition protesters, many expected the celebrations would be more discreet.Not quite. Pro-Kremlin youth groups are hosting events around the country. The youth wing of the ruling United Russia party, Young Guard, is leading the way, with a campaign titled "We are Russia, Russia is Putin" on Mr Putin's birthday.As part of the campaign, a poetry reading will be held on Arbat, Moscow's main tourist street. Banners celebrating Putin will be hung from a bridge in the city of Rostov and a huge birthday card will be opened in the Siberian city of Chelyabinsk, where admirers can write personal greetings to the powerful leader.The group has told at least one school, in the southern city of Taganrog, best known as the birthplace of the playwright Anton Chekhov, to compile 100 drawings from its students devoted to Mr Putin, according to documents leaked on the internet.State-run television channels will also rejoice. Two programs on Mr Putin are planned for tonight, one on NTV, a channel run by the Kremlin and owned by Gazprom, the national gas monopoly. A trailer of the film shown on the channel's website on Thursday depicted a giddy interviewer standing poolside as Mr Putin, bare-chested in small, black swimming trunks, spoke earnestly from the water about his swimming schedule. He then powerfully swam away.The film will show several days in the life of Mr Putin, who returned to the presidency in May after four years as prime minister. He has led the country since 1999, meaning he has spent more than one-fifth of his life at Russia's helm.That fact is not lost on Russia's opposition, which emerged last year after Mr Putin announced he had no plans to leave office. Playing on the fact that Putin has reached 60, the pension age for Russian men, anti-Putin activists will hold a flash mob near the presidential administration's office just off Red Square titled "Send Grandad into Retirement". Props are expected to include slippers, eyeglass cases and gardening equipment.The Kremlin has sought to distance itself from the pro-Putin birthday fest. Dmitry Peskov, Mr Putin's spokesman, said the President would have "a very modest home celebration with his best friends and relatives. He's not fond of big celebrations".