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Putin vows to modernise Russia as challengers prepare for election race

President Vladimir Putin has presented his vision for modernising Russia, while some of his challengers in next March's presidential vote have been formally nominated for the race.

Mr Putin is running as an independent candidate, keeping a distance from the top Kremlin party, United Russia, which has been dogged by corruption allegations against some of its top members.

Despite that, Mr Putin showed up on Saturday at United Russia's congress, speaking about his future goals.

He pledged to offer broader incentives for business, fight corruption and pour extra resources into the underfunded health care and education system.

With his approval ratings topping 80%, Mr Putin is set to easily win the March 18 vote.

Ksenia Sobchak, a star TV host, was formally nominated for the race on Saturday following a few other contenders.

AP

In a televised speech Mr Putin said: "Russia is a country with a 1,000-year history, but we mustn't treat her like our grandmother, just giving her pills to relieve her pain.

"We must make Russia young, aimed into the future."

Mr Putin's most visible opponent, opposition leader Alexei Navalny, is barred from the race by an embezzlement conviction he calls politically motivated. Nevertheless, the 41-year old anti-corruption crusader has run a year-long grass-roots campaign and staged waves of rallies to push the Kremlin to let him run.

Mr Navalny has threatened to organise a campaign for boycotting the vote, which would be an embarrassment to the Kremlin, which is worried about voter apathy and focused on boosting turnout to make Mr Putin's victory more impressive.

The involvement of Ms Sobchak, a sharp-tongued 36-year old star TV host, could raise public interest in the race. While she has denied colluding with the Kremlin, her participation could weaken Mr Navalny and attract younger voters to the polls.

She has criticised the Kremlin's policies and called for democratic changes, but steered clear of any personal criticism of Mr Putin, who in the 1990s served as a deputy to Ms Sobchak's late father, who was the mayor of St Petersburg.

Ms Sobchak was formally nominated for the race on Saturday by a liberal party, the Civic Initiative.

The Communists this time decided to field a fresh candidate instead of their chief Gennady Zyuganov, a fixture of past campaigns. They nominated Pavel Grudinin, the director of a strawberry farm near Moscow.

Other veterans of the past elections liberal Grigory Yavlinsky and ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky are also running.

AP

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