By Windsor Genova

Moscow, Russian Federation

Russian billionaire and owner of the New Jersey Nets, Mikhail Prokhorov, will challenge Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in the March presidential elections as an independent candidate.

The 46-year-old Prokhorov, who is regarded as Russia's third richest man, announced his plans in a press conference in Moscow on Monday.

Under Russia's election rules, Prokhorov will have to collect 2 million signatures before his name can be included in the ballot. He revealed that his team has been setting up a system to meet this requirement since he quit as leader of the pro-business political party Just Cause in September.

Earlier in his blog, Prokhorov said there is no alternative to Putin as president. Just Russia party leader Sergei Mironov is also running for president.

Prokhorov's announcement came three days after the country saw its biggest nationwide rally protesting the results of the Dec. 4 parliamentary elections won by Putin's party, United Russia. The demonstrations accused the ruling party of committing fraud to win and demanded a new vote.

Putin has declared his presidential bid. If he wins, it will be his third term as president.

Putin was elected second president of the Russian Federation after Boris Yeltsin in 2000 and was re-elected for another four-year term in 2004. In 2008, he was named prime minister by his successor Dmitry Medvedev.


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