Russian calendar girls in Putin birthday battle

The erotic calendar is the latest stunt in praise of Mr Putin

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Female students at Russia's prestigious Moscow State University (MGU) have produced rival calendars - one erotic, the other sombre - for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's 58th birthday.

First a group of journalism students posing in lingerie featured in a calendar with suggestive captions, such as: "You put out forest fires, but I'm still burning."

Then another group hit back, posing in black, with their mouths taped shut.

Polls suggest Mr Putin is very popular.

He has been filmed riding bare-chested through the mountains, swimming in a Siberian river and sitting at the controls of a firefighting helicopter.

The Happy Birthday erotic calendar for 2011 was called "Vladimir Vladimirovich, we love you" and showed 12 pouting students in lingerie.

"How about a third time?" asked Miss February - hinting provocatively at a possible third presidential term for Mr Putin. He is eligible to run again in 2012.

A spokeswoman for the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, said the calendars had a 50,000 print run and went on sale in Moscow supermarkets.

Questions for Putin
Students pose with taped mouths in alternative calendar, 7 Oct 10 Students in the alternative calendar asked provocative questions instead

Later a rival calendar appeared on the internet, with female students all wearing black and with their mouths taped shut - in apparent protest at the silencing of political dissidents.

The text on one page read "Who killed Anna Politkovskaya?" - referring to the still unresolved murder four years ago of a journalist who was one of the Kremlin's sharpest critics. She had exposed human rights abuses by security forces in Chechnya.

The alternative, sombre calendar bears the words "Vladimir Vladimirovich, we have some questions..." and "When will they free Mikhail Khodorkovsky?" - a reference to the highly controversial jailing of the former Yukos oil magnate, who was widely seen as challenging the Kremlin's power.

Yelizaveta Menshikova, one of the students in the sombre calendar, told bbcrussian.com that her calendar had received many expressions of support online.

"Breasts are pretty, yes - I have them too. But I also have a head on my shoulders. And we girls did this all ourselves, without producers," she said.

The dean of the journalism faculty at MGU, Yelena Vartanova, said she was annoyed that MGU had been associated with the erotic calendar.

"I simply don't understand what the journalism faculty and university have to do with this. To make their commercial project successful the girls used brands that they did not create, that do not belong to them," she said.

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