Moscow: Vladimir Putin on Monday takes office as Russian president for a historic third term, facing the challenges of a fast-changing society and an outburst of protests against his 12-year domination.

Putin will take over from Dmitry Medvedev as president after a four-year absence from the Kremlin, in a lavish ceremony that aims to remind the world of post-Soviet Russia's status as a great global power.

Medvedev has served as president since 2008 as Putin was constitutionally barred from serving more than two consecutive terms, having become head of state in 2000 following the resignation of Boris Yeltsin.

Few doubted that Putin remained in fully charge as he instead took the job of prime minister, yet analysts say he now faces unprecedented challenges in his third term after mass opposition protests and an explosion in Internet use.

Police yesterday used batons and charging tactics to break up an anti-Putin rally in the centre of Moscow which had been sanctioned by the authorities but had descended into chaos.

More than 400 people were arrested, including three key leaders of the nascent protest movement: anti-corruption crusader Alexei Navalny, liberal leader Boris Nemtsov and ultra-left wing activist Sergei Udaltsov.

Putin, 59, will be sworn in just after midday, when Medvedev hands him the ceremonial chain of presidential office made up of golden double-headed eagles.

Placing his hand on a copy of the constitution, he will swear to "respect and protect the rights and freedoms of the people and citizens" as well as "observe and protect the constitution of the Russian Federation."

He will also pledge to protect "sovereignty and independence and the security and integrity of the state.”


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