Dmitry Medvedev calls for fight against official corruption

Russian President-elect Dmitry Medvedev promised Wednesday to give a broader voice to civil society groups and strengthen the fight against official corruption.

Medvedev, President Vladimir Putin's hand-picked successor who was elected by a wide margin March 2, is widely expected to toe his patron's course. But liberal statements by Medvedev have encouraged public expectations that he may soften some of the most repressive Kremlin policies.

Medvedev, who spoke at a Kremlin meeting with members of the Public Chamber, an advisory body created by the Kremlin, said that a strong civil society should play an important role in fighting corruption.

"We must create a situation when no public servant is immune from public attention," Medvedev said, adding that a stronger public control would make life more difficult for corrupt officials.

He added that the current situation with corruption is "extremely dangerous."

Medvedev has already moved into the Kremlin office in anticipation of his May 7 inauguration and chaired an increasing number of official meetings.

The mild-mannered former lawyer tried to imitate Putin's assertive style and even his brisk gait in public appearances, but his soft manners and scholarly language were in marked contrast with his stern ex-KGB mentor.

Putin has repeatedly pledged to combat graft, but experts say that the problem has worsened at all government levels since he came to power in 2000. The global anti-corruption group Transparency International estimates the level of graft has jumped as much as sevenfold since 2001.

Russia is near the top of Transparency International's scale of corruption, at No. 121 out of 163 in 2006.

Putin is set to become Medvedev's prime minister, prompting widespread speculation that he will continue calling the shots.

Medvedev's emphasis on a stronger role for civil society encouraged expectations that he may ease a tight government grip on Russia's political life imposed by Putin.

"A mature civil society is a vital necessity, a foundation, a guarantee of stable development of our nation," Medvedev said. "And our task is to create a system when civil society groups participate in setting the government course and assessing its efficiency."

Critics say, however, that Medvedev's statements are just rhetoric, pointing at his role in establishing the Kremlin domination over Russia's political landscape as longtime aide to Putin.

Medvedev also said Wednesday that the authorities should take a stronger action against hate crimes, which have been on the rise in Russia. Rights groups have accused authorities of turning a blind eye to many hate crimes and failing to track down and prosecute the culprits.

On Wednesday, several hundred anti-Nazi activists rallied in downtown Moscow to protest the killing of a 16-year old student by neo-Nazis over the weekend.