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Opposition sees reforms proposed by Medvedev as too little, too late

Sweeping measures that Russian President Dmitry A. Medvedev proposed Thursday to loosen the Kremlin's tight grip on political life indicates the deep anxiety that government leaders have about demonstrations that have shaken their country in recent weeks.

In his final state-of-the-nation address to Russia's parliament, Medvedev unveiled a set of changes that would have been unimaginable just weeks ago, proposing policies that would make it easier to run for president and register a political party.

He also launched measures to reduce corruption among public officials and return to directly elected regional governors, loosening the control over the country that his predecessor in the president's office, Prime Minister Vladimir V. Putin, built up during his eight years in the top job.

The proposals showed that leaders are concerned about the demonstrations that have roiled Russia in recent weeks. But they were nevertheless derided as too little, too late by the organizers of the street protests. Some opposition leaders acknowledged that on paper, Medvedev's reforms were major, but said they doubted they would be implemented.

In his nearly four years as president, Medvedev has often played the reformist foil to Putin's more hard-edged style, though Putin has always had the upper hand. A September announcement that Putin and Medvedev intended to swap jobs after March presidential elections set off a wave of anger in Russia, where voters felt that Putin had abandoned all pretense of consulting them.

Medvedev acknowledged the discontent Thursday, in a largely conciliatory speech. "We should learn to respect public opinion and not force our decisions on the public," he said.

The president has just months left in office, and it is unclear what influence he retains among lawmakers, who have long deferred to Putin. Analysts think that any proposals Medvedev is making now are likely to have Putin's tacit consent. But Putin's much harder line against the protesters last week made many skeptical of how real the reforms will be.

Medvedev proposed lowering the bar for candidates to qualify to run for president, allowing independent contenders to qualify with 300,000 signatures instead of 2 million.

The president also advocated making it easier to register smaller political parties that have long been frozen out by the Kremlin. "I hear those talking about the need for reforms and for changes," Medvedev said. "We need to give all active citizens an opportunity to take part in political life."

Another major demand of the protesters is an end to corruption, which they complain is endemic to Russian society. Medvedev proposed forcing more public officials to disclose their income, and said he wanted to reduce the number of contracts awarded to businesses run by the family members of public employees.

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