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Last Updated: Thursday, 23 June, 2005, 13:52 GMT 14:52 UK
Khodorkovsky fans want birthday cheer
Khodorkovsky sitting in the dock of a Moscow court
Supporters are looking to put the smile back on Khordorkovsky's face
Mikhail Khodorkovsky's supporters want a groundswell of messages from around the world to mark the birthday of the imprisoned former Yukos boss on Sunday.

They are calling for congratulations either to be phoned in to special numbers or sent via e-mail before Mr Khodorkovsky turns 42 on 26 June.

"You can support and congratulate him on his birthday," a website run by his supporters said.

"Your wishes will be transmitted to the Matrosskaya Tishina prison."

'Happy Birthday'

Messages have already started to arrive and have been posted on the website.

One from Natalia Gryaznova of Moscow pretty much sums up the tone.

"What future awaits our country, or us?" Ms Gryaznova asks. "We need you: your wisdom, your intellect, your inner freedom. Happy birthday; we have lots more work to do."

Khodorkovsky has been in jail since October 2003 and is appealing against the verdict of a Moscow court, which found him guilty of tax evasion and fraud, and sentenced him to nine years in jail.

His trial stirred up strong emotions among Russians, and the controversy is refusing to die down.

Supporters have run an extremely astute PR campaign on Khodorkovsky's behalf, arguing that he is being made to pay for his opposition to an increasingly authoritarian Kremlin.

Critics, on the other hand, see him as little more than a thief who ignored the greater good of the nation and profited illegally from its wealth of natural resources.

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