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Last Updated: Sunday, 3 July, 2005, 01:41 GMT 02:41 UK
Putin plans Russia vodka monopoly
Bottles of vodka
Russia has one of the world's highest alcohol consumption rates
Russia's President Vladimir Putin has called for a return to a state monopoly on vodka production, to cut the many thousands of alcohol-related deaths.

Since the Soviet Union's collapse, hundreds of little-known brands of vodka - Russia's favourite tipple - appeared to meet a $9bn a year market.

But analysts believe a quarter of that total is illegal low-quality vodka.

Mr Putin said poor quality alcohol was contributing to the deaths of some 40,000 Russians each year.

Crime gang-controlled

More than 13,000 people died of "accidental alcohol poisoning" in the first four months of this year alone, the AFP news agency reported.

Organised crime groups are suspected of being behind a lot of bootlegged poor quality vodka, which is often made from industrial alcohol.

"The best way for us to solve this problem is if we got from the government a decision which would practically move to a monopoly on spirits," Mr Putin said.

"The government agrees with this, and relevant officials promised to come to this quickly, but step by step," he added.

State control of alcohol generated a considerable source of revenue for the Soviet and Tsarist governments.

The state-owned producer, RosSpirtProm, still accounts for some 50% of Russia's alcohol production.

Some 2.2 billion litres of vodka was sold in Russia in 2003, the equivalent of 15 litres per person, Reuters news agency reported.

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