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Last Updated: Friday, 29 October, 2004, 17:13 GMT 18:13 UK
Russian Duma backs Putin reforms
Beslan hostage-taker
The reforms are aimed at avoiding a repeat of Beslan
Russia's parliament has approved a bill to give the Kremlin more control over the country's regions, ending direct elections of the 89 regional governors.

Instead they will be nominated by the president, then confirmed by regional legislatures.

The measure is part of a reform package put forward by President Putin to boost security after the Beslan school siege.

Critics say he is undermining the constitution and depriving Russians of their democratic rights.

The measure was approved in its first reading after two hours of debate. Sixty-four deputies voted against, 365 voted in favour, and four abstained.

The pro-Kremlin United Russia party holds a two-thirds majority in the lower house of parliament, the Duma.

The bill is expected to pass its two subsequent readings.

An independent liberal member of parliament, Vladimir Ryzhkov, said the vote amounted to a vote of no confidence in the Russian people.

"By holding it they declare that the people are not ready for democracy," he said.

Trained bombers

During a debate on national security ahead of the vote, the Russian Prosecutor General Vladimir Ustinov proposed arresting the relatives of those staging terrorist acts.

He said that showing terrorists what may happen to their relatives could be an efficient tool in negotiations.

During that debate the head of the FSB security services, Nikolai Patrushev, told parliament that more than 80 suicide attackers had been trained on foreign soil to launch strikes in Russia.

However, some attackers have been "neutralised", he said, although he added he could not guarantee there would be no further attacks.

Suicide bombers have been responsible for many attacks in Russia, including the bombing of two planes in August, which killed more than 90 people.

Mr Patrushev called for the creation of a single permanent anti-terrorist centre.

He also said the September school hostage drama in Beslan, North Ossetia, was carried out by Chechen warlord Shamil Basayev, who has already claimed responsibility for the attack, blaming Russia for the bloodshed.

The officially death toll for the siege was 360, including 172 child hostages and 30 members of the gang which targeted the school. Unofficial estimates put the number of victims higher.

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