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Putin moves to strengthen kremlin power

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Putin Moves to Strengthen Kremlin's Power
Sep 13, 6:11 PM (ET)


MOSCOW (AP) - President Vladimir Putin on Monday demanded an overhaul of Russia's political system, including an end to the direct popular election of governors, saying the changes were needed to combat terrorism.

Critics charged the Russian leader was using the bloody outcome of the Beslan school siege to grab more power.

The former KGB spy, saying the future of the country was at stake, called for creation of a powerful anti-terror agency "capable of not only dealing with terror attacks but also working to avert them, destroy criminals in their hideouts and, if necessary, abroad."

Some 430 people have been killed in terror attacks in Russia over the last three weeks, including 330 people in the bloody end to the school siege in Beslan in southern Russia. More than half the dead at the school were children. Ninety people died when suspected Chechen women suicide bombers blew up of two Russian airliners in flight.

Curiously, however, the Russian leader's proposals focused largely on electoral changes. Putin said he would propose legislation abolishing the election of local governors by popular vote. Instead they would be nominated by the president and confirmed by local legislatures. He said the change was needed to streamline and strengthen the executive branch to better combat terror.

Putin also asked for an overhaul of the way Russians elect their parliament. The entire 450 seats would be elected from candidates on party lists. At present about half are chosen that way, meaning many candidates can win seats while representing no party. It also had allowed a candidate to win a place in the legislature even if representing a party that garnered too few seats as an organization to win representation.

Critics warned that Putin's reliance on central control could weaken the nation further separating those in power from their constituents.

Since taking office in 1999, Putin has constantly worked to rein in the governors. He has tossed them out of Russia's upper house of parliament, appointing seven regional envoys to monitor them.

"Today, all the power agencies that are supposed to fight terrorism are subordinated directly to the president. ... It's incomprehensible why on top of that he has to name governors," Sergei Mitrokhin, a leading member of the liberal Yabloko faction, told Russia's Ekho Moskvy radio. "It shows that the president doesn't know what to do, he's at a loss."

Sergei Markov, a political analyst with close ties to the Kremlin, said the president's move against the governors could help curb corruption that has flourished in some regions.

"At the same time, it means ... a lowering of (their) general political authority and a serious lowering of political pluralism," Markov told Ekho Moskvy.

Vladimir Ryzhkov, one of the few opposition deputies in the State Duma, scorned the president's political proposals and warned that the next election would produce a Duma of "marionette party lists and (that) won't enjoy any authority."

Russians, however, feel that the elected governors and legislators are even more corrupt than Communist administrators in Soviet times. They also have traditionally clamored for a firm hand to restore order and now want action against terrorism, often telling journalists terrorist attacks would never have happened under the late dictator Stalin.

Putin also said official corruption had resulted in terrorists getting official travel and residence documents "leading to grave consequences." Putin named one of his closest confidants, Cabinet chief of staff Dmitry Kozak, to represent him in the southern district that includes the Caucasus, which he called "a key strategic region for Russia" and "a victim of terrorism and also a springboard for it."

He also proposed a new structure called the Public Chamber that he said would strengthen public oversight of the government and the actions of law enforcement agencies.

The Russian president, who in 1999 as Russia's prime minister ordered troops back into Chechnya after apartment bombings in Moscow blamed on Chechens, made the new proposals Monday to Cabinet members and security officials convened in special session.

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