Putin woos Russians by pledging to turn back clock

Tue Feb 7, 2012 3:53pm EST
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By Gleb Bryanski and Darya Korsunskaya

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Vladimir Putin promised on Tuesday to turn back the clock and restore winter time in Russia if elected president, in a bid to woo millions of voters who have complained about waking up and going to work in darkness.

President Dmitry Medvedev, who will step down in May, scrapped winter time in 2011, arguing that switching the clock back and forth was bad for people's health. Medvedev's critics joked it was the incumbent's boldest move during his presidency.

"I am not going to stick to this decision. This is not some kind of a fetish. We can go back to it (winter time), but let's not do it in a hurry," Putin told a meeting of volunteers who will campaign on his behalf.

Putin is expected to win the March election but is facing growing protests from urban Russians unhappy with his decision to seek a third presidential term. The demonstrations also focused on accusations of fraud in December's parliamentary election, won by Putin's party.

In another populist move Putin also pledged to reduce the number of government cars using flashlights, which give them the right to ignore traffic rules and bypass traffic jams - a major irritant for Russian motorists.

Putin defended Medvedev's decision to scrap winter time, saying the outgoing president had wanted to avoid disrupting people's biological clocks.

"I spoke with Dmitry Anatolyevich (Medvedev) about it. He is not going to stick to it either. If the majority thinks that it was better before, we can go back to it," Putin told an audience packed with Russian pop and sports stars.

Before agreeing to step down and make way for his mentor Putin, Medvedev also reduced the number of time zones to nine from 11 in a country that stretches across 10,000 kilometers (6,200 miles). This decision has not been criticized.   Continued...

<p>Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin speaks to a meeting of his election campaign representatives in Moscow February 7, 2012. REUTERS/Alexsey Druginyn/RIA Novosti/Pool</p>