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Russia marks Putin's 60th birthday

Moscow: Russia's President Vladimir Putin turned 60 on Sunday, the official retirement age in the country he has dominated for the past 12 years, as his supporters celebrated his leadership and machismo.
    
Putin flew to his native northwestern city of Saint Petersburg to spend the day with "friends and family", according to his spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
    
However his supporters went out of their way to wish him the best and his birthday figured prominently in each newscast of the day on Russia's state television channels.
    
"Your name is a symbol of a wise politician and a strong leader in Russia and the world," Saint Petersburg Governor Georgy Poltavchenko wrote to the president in an open letter. "You returned to Russians their confidence in on Monday."
    
An exhibition dedicated to Putin, called "A Man of the Kindest Soul", was opening on Sunday in a Moscow art centre. Black Labradors, the same breed of dog as Putin's pet Connie, were expected at the show.
    
Molodaya Gvardiya, a pro-Kremlin youth movement, posted a video on their website of young women assembling to greet an arriving Putin with a cake after participating in various activities associated with the Russian leader.
    
One, wearing a "Putin" hockey jersey, is shown scoring a goal in a USA-Putin match before receiving a text message saying, "I'm on my way," presumably from the president. She then winks at the camera, smiling seductively.
    
Putin's sports hobbies are also featured in a rare up-close-and-personal special made by a media channel, to air on Sunday during prime time. The filmmakers trailed Putin for a week, even taking the camera to a swimming pool.
    
Putin has famously styled himself as a macho sportsman, swimming the butterfly in wild Siberian rivers, fly-fishing shirtless and riding on horseback for the cameras.
    
Russian bloggers snickered that Putin's image of a young and energetic leader no longer corresponded with his age. "Lenin at 52 was nicknamed 'Grandpa Lenin'," wrote one Twitter user, referring to Russia's revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin, who died at 53.
    
Putin's opposition also made jabs at the president's age, with one rally planned for the day called "Let's Send Grandpa to Retirement!"
    
A survey by independent pollster Levada this week showed that despite his age, Putin is still popular with the ladies, with 20 percent of Russian women saying they would like to marry him.
    
In power since 1999 -- first as prime minister, then president, then prime minister and now president again -- Putin has over the past decade sidelined opponents, and in May triumphantly returned to the Kremlin for a third term.

(Agencies)

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