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Top Russian governor says will not seek third term
By Konstantin Trifonov

ST PETERSBURG, Russia, April 2 (Reuters) - The governor of St Petersburg ruled out seeking a third term on Wednesday, opening the way for an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin to take over the administration of his home town.

Vladimir Yakovlev, one of Russia's most powerful regional bosses whom Putin has long criticised, made his announcement on local television as he faced mounting criticism over his management of the city's lavish 300th anniversary festivities.

"Today we have to take the necessary steps so that, whoever assumes my position, the city is handed over in democratic fashion," Yakovlev said.

He said he could have legally sought a third term, barred by local law, by putting the matter to a referendum in the city of 4.5 million, "but I did not make this my goal."

Since 1996, Yakovlev has run affairs in Russia's second largest city, birthplace of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and loved for its grand buildings and canals.

Critics say he has done little to halt the elegant facades' steady slide into disrepair. A federal auditor this week issued new demands to account for what officials say is waste and corruption in preparing for May's celebrations, due to culminate in a gathering of world leaders hosted by Putin.

Yakovlev denies any wrongdoing and says he is doing all he can to build up a city suffering from a legacy of being built on marshland by Tsar Peter the Great and living through a 900-day Nazi siege which still leaves proper housing in short supply.

The announcement was made scant weeks after Putin appointed trusted aide Valentina Matviyenko his prefect in the northwest region, which includes St Petersburg.

That appointment was widely seen as a stepping stone to running for governor next year, to redeem her embarrassing withdrawal from the 2000 race easily won by Yakovlev.

Yakovlev and Putin have long been antagonists.

Both worked under former governor Anatoly Sobchak, Putin's mentor and a reform proponent at the end of Soviet rule. Yakovlev turned against Sobchak, ousting him in 1996 polls and when Sobchak died in 2000, Putin told mourners he had been "killed."

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