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World - Europe

Putin tells Duma: Law and order top priority

Putin
Putin addresses the Duma on Monday

iconMESSAGE BOARD:
Russia's future

 ALSO:
Yeltsin says feels fine, heart 'working like clock'
 

Vote expected to confirm Yeltsin's choice as prime minister

August 16, 1999
Web posted at: 9:04 a.m. EDT (1304 GMT)


In this story:

Yeltsin: No state of emergency over Dagestan

Putin found no 'clear opposition'

Communists seek answers on Dagestan, poverty

Putin: 'International terrorists' operating in Dagestan

Critic: 'Nonstop absurdity'

RELATED STORIES, SITES icon



MOSCOW(CNN) -- Former KGB spy Vladimir Putin delivered a terse speech Monday to Russian legislators who were preparing to vote on his nomination as prime minister, telling the Duma that ensuring law and order would be his top priority.

"None of the tasks can be carried out without installing elementary order in the country," Putin said.

The lower house of Russia's parliament is expected to approve Putin later Monday as President Boris Yeltsin's latest choice to be prime minister. If approved, Putin would be the fifth premier in the last 17 months.

Putin said other items on his agenda would be strengthening Russia's armed forces, improving the military industrial complex, continuing economic reforms aimed at improving the quality of life for all Russians, and ensuring "fair and honest" parliamentary elections in December.

Putin also said the government is using "very harsh measures against the terrorists" in Dagestan to end the 10-day old guerrilla insurgency there.

Yeltsin: No state of emergency over Dagestan

Yeltsin, who abruptly fired Prime Minister Sergei Stepashin and picked Putin to succeed him, on Monday predicted that Putin will be approved by the 450-member Duma, the lower chamber of parliament, "calmly, without shouting."

The vote comes amid upheaval in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan. Yeltsin on Monday ruled out imposing a state of emergency in Russia in connection with the Dagestan conflict, which represents the first major challenge Putin would face as prime minister.

"There will be tough measures in the North Caucasus and we will restore order there in Dagestan and other regions," Russian news agencies quoted Yeltsin as saying. "But once again, I state it firmly as president -- there will be no state of emergency."

Yeltsin spoke after 10 days of fighting between federal forces and Islamic rebels in Dagestan.

"We have a normal, calm situation," Yeltsin said, adding that there were signs of recovery a year after an economic crisis which led to a default on Russian debt.

Putin found no 'clear opposition'

Putin must get a simple majority in the lower house to be confirmed in office. Former Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinowsky have already said their parties will support Putin.

The only question, experts agreed, is how many deputies will be present to vote for him at the session, which occurs during a summer break. Most parliamentary leaders have indicated they will not oppose Putin.

The 47-year-old acting premier has held talks with a number of influential leaders, gathering support in advance of the Duma's debate, which is scheduled to begin at 2 p.m. (1000 GMT), preceding the vote.

"I did not detect malice from anyone, any clear opposition," Putin said of his meetings. He was speaking in a television interview, one his few since being appointed by Yeltsin.

"I had the impression that dialogue will also be constructive in the future," he said.

Communists seek answers on Dagestan, poverty

Putin was previously head of the Federal Security Service, the main successor to the KGB. He spent 17 years in the KGB.

During the Soviet era, when he worked in Germany, he earned the nickname "The Grey Cardinal" for clandestine work with the mayor of St. Petersburg.

The Communist Party, which has the biggest faction in the Duma, said it would decide on Monday on whether to support Putin.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov said he wants to know how Putin would deal with poverty and the conflict in the North Caucasus region of Dagestan.

"We must hear sensible, public responses," from Putin, Zyuganov told commercial NTV television.

Putin: 'International terrorists' operating in Dagestan

Putin, in a television interview, said on Sunday "international terrorists" were behind the conflict in the southern region of Dagestan.

"In this instance we are facing bands of international terrorists," Putin told state-owned RTR television, speaking of the conflict in Dagestan.

The rebels are backed by Chechen fighters, who are not controlled by the official authorities in Chechnya. With Dagestan, Putin's challenge will be to resolve the situation with minimal bloodshed, and without igniting a new war in neighboring Chechnya.

Russian troops are battling Islamic fighters who infiltrated from Chechnya earlier this month and seized several villages.

Putin told Yeltsin last Monday after his surprise nomination that it would take about two weeks to crush the rebels and vowed to hit them everywhere. However, so far the situation on the ground appears undecided and heavy fighting continues.

Even if he handles Dagestan, Putin's future is clouded.

Yeltsin has developed a habit of sacking prime ministers abruptly. He gave no reason for dismissing Stepashin after just three months in office.

Critic: 'Nonstop absurdity'

Many factions appear unwilling to confront the unpredictable Yeltsin, who has named four other prime ministers in 17 months and has a constitutional right to dissolve the Duma if it rejects his choice of a prime minister three times.

Deputies are also mindful of approaching elections, to be held on December 19.

Only a small percentage of the Russian people favor Yeltsin's latest shakeup.

Powerful Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, who heads a centrist alliance, has blasted Yeltsin's choice of Putin, seeing a move to authoritarian rule.

Luzhkov, in his first public comment after Yeltsin dismissed Stepashin, said on Saturday the move showed the "continuous, nonstop absurdity of those in power."

Correspondents Steve Harrigan, Mike Hanna and Reuters contributed to this report.



RELATED STORIES:
Russia targets rebels in Dagestan; Chechnya in state of emergency
August 15, 1999
Report: Yeltsin says Duma to approve Putin Monday
August 13, 1999
Yeltsin fires Russian prime minister, nominates security chief
August 9, 1999

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