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RUSSIA - July 8 - 'Central Government Must Be Strengthened'.

In his 1st state of the union address, Pres. Putin tells lawmakers Russia must take back powers ceded to regional governments and restore central authority to ensure national stability. Putin tells members of both houses of the Russian parliament: "We have created islands, small islands of power, but we have not built a bridge between those islands", adding: "The centre and the territories, regional and local authorities are still competing with each other, competing for power. Those who take advantage of disorder and arbitrary rule are watching their mutually destructive fight". (Putin, elected earlier 2000, has made curtailing the powers of regional leaders an important project. Under former Pres. Yeltsin, many leaders were allowed to assume political and fiscal authority from the central government.)

Putin also alludes to Chechnya, the breakaway province where during last week suicide rebel bombers killed more than 30 people in a series of attacks against Russian-held towns and troops. Putin says Chechnya, where Russian soldiers have been fighting rebels since September, is an "extreme example" of the government's failure to assert its authority over its regions. He says: "The territory has become a bridgehead in Russia for the expansion of international terrorism". In a 50-minute address, Putin also touches on his concern for the overall health of the Russian people as well as the country's financial stability. Putin warns that Russia's population is steadily falling by as much as 750,000 people every year. He says in 15 years, it could lose up to 22m people, which represents one-seventh of the population. Putin says: "If the current tendency prevails, the survival of the country will be under threat". He warns Russia's international reputation is suffering because of its flagging economy and calls on lawmakers to push through tax reform. The president also says he was committed to protecting civil rights, adding that media freedom was vital to preserving democracy. But, he says the press in Russia was largely under the control of financial clans, some of whom he describes as "anti-state". (Weeks ago, Russian authorities detained media tycoon Vladimir Gusinsky, who has been critical of Putin.) Opinion polls continue to show support for Putin.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Recorder
Article Type:Brief Article
Geographic Code:4EXRU
Date:Jul 8, 2000
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