Russia's President Vladimir Putin has today submitted to parliament a package of constitutional amendments widely seen as an attempt to secure his grip on power well after his current term ends in 2024.
Meanwhile, Russia's anti-Kremlin opposition has said it planned to stage a big protest next month against the proposed constitutional changes, which it cast as a ploy for Putin to rule for life.
Putin, in a surprise move, last week unveiled a sweeping shake-up of the political system which led to the resignation of Dmitry Medvedev as prime minister along with his government.
Russia's leader has argued the changes were intended to bolster the role of Parliament and strengthen democracy.
However, his changes, which would amend the constitution to create new centres of power outside the presidency, were seen by many as giving the 67-year-old scope to extend his grip on power once his term expires in 2024.
Today, the Kremlin-controlled lower house, the State Duma, confirmed it has received a draft bill on constitutional proposals from the Kremlin.
The politicians will fast-track the document, putting it for discussion at Thursday's meeting.
Observers say that the proposed changes could allow Mr Putin to stay in charge by shifting into the position of head of the State Council or moving into the prime minister's seat after increasing the powers of Parliament and the Cabinet and trimming presidential authority.
Mr Putin's amendments include a proposal to give the constitution a clear priority over international law, a tweak seen as a reflection of the Kremlin's irritation over the European Court of Human Rights' rulings that held Russia responsible for human rights violations.
Another suggested amendment says that top government officials are not allowed to have foreign citizenship or residence permits.
Parallel to politicians, a working group created by Mr Putin will also consider the proposed changes before they are put to the vote.
Mr Putin said that the constitutional changes need to be approved by the entire nation, but it was not immediately clear how such a vote would be organised.
Opposition politician Ilya Yashin on Monday announced what he said were coordinated opposition plans for a protest march against Putin's initiative on Feb. 29 in Moscow.
'Society needs a big and genuinely mass protest,' wrote Yashin, who said Putin's changes amounted to a move to 'rule for ever'.
'It will be a political march, the main aim of which will be to call for the rotation of power and to protest against the usurpation of power,' said Yashin.
Yashin said the protest, permission for which he said would now be requested from the Moscow authorities, had the support of a wide range of anti-Kremlin groups including opposition politician Alexei Navalny's Anti-Corruption Foundation.
Navalny publicised Yashin's message on social media.
Over 1,000 people also marched through Moscow on Sunday in an event one Kremlin critic tried to turn into a protest against the reforms, but many demonstrators chose to voice dissent about other issues instead.
Putin, 67, has dominated Russian politics, as president or as prime minister, for two decades - longer than any other Russian or Soviet leader since Josef Stalin, who led from 1924 until his death in 1953.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
© Associated Newspapers Ltd.