Putin vows normality for Chechens
MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) -- Russian President Vladimir Putin Friday has vowed to end terror attacks in Chechnya and reiterated his call for an amnesty to rebels in the restive southern republic.
"We see that the terror attacks are more and more often directed against the civilian population," Putin said in his annual state of the union address. "But we will bring this to a conclusion, we will make sure the people in Chechnya live a normal life."
Putin on Thursday sent a bill to the lower house of parliament offering amnesty to Chechen rebels if they voluntarily laid down their arms, stopped terrorist activity and halted membership in terrorist organizations by August 1.
The proposal applies to acts committed in the last 10 years, but does not cover people who have committed grave crimes -- such as murder, kidnapping, and robbery. The amnesty would not cover foreign nationals involved in the Chechen rebel separatist activities.
The move comes on the heels of two suicide attacks this week in the province that killed nearly 70 people. (Full Story)
"We had to pay a ... high price for restoring the territorial integrity of Russia and today we are bowing our heads to the memory of the military and civilians who ... paid with their lives to have our country strong and inseparable," Putin said, noting that he expects further violent attacks from the rebels.
"The remaining bandits will try to kill and to threaten in order to intimidate people, in order to frustrate the dynamic political process."
Touching on wide range of issues -- including military reform, pension plans and the decline in life expectancy for Russians -- Putin emphasized getting Russia on track to emerge as an world economic leader.
"Russia is not a country condemned to live from one crisis to another," Putin said. "The Russian people are talented and have the spirit of initiative and enterprise that they can create another life for themselves.
"I believe that we should make Russia one of the rich and respected countries of the world. This can only happen when Russia becomes economically strong."
His speech comes less than a year before presidential elections, scheduled for March 2004.
Many of Russia's domestic problems have been sidetracked over the past year by its focus on international crises, including Iraq and Afghanistan.
He stressed that the U.N. Security Council remains the most viable option when dealing with violations of international law -- the reason why Moscow did not support the U.S.-led military action on Iraq.
"We don't have another universal mechanism available to the international community," Putin said. "We should protect it."
Despite the disagreement over war in Iraq, Putin said the anti-terrorism coalition created after the September 11 attacks on New York and Washington was "extremely effective in fighting international terrorism," using the military action in Afghanistan as an example.
"Russia appreciates and cherishes this anti-terrorist community," he said.