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Wednesday, 17 May, 2000, 23:55 GMT 00:55 UK
Putin reins in regions
putin and yeltsin
Vladimir Putin is trying to reverse Boris Yeltsin's moves
President Vladimir Putin wants to overhaul Russian law to strengthen central government in an attempt to control the country's unruly regions.

In his first televised address to the nation, Mr Putin said he wanted to replace the upper house of parliament, half of which is now made up of regional governors, with full-time legislators.

New laws would allow him to dismiss regional leaders whose policies contradicted the constitution.

"This will mean that we live in one, strong country, in a single Russian state", the president said in an unexpected television address.

Firm hand

Mr Putin, punctuating his speech with firm hand gestures and repeatedly using the words "strong state", defended his moves by saying Russia's weakened central government was hurting the whole country.

"The proposed Bills are not aimed against regional leaders," he said.

The new chamber would consist of two representatives of each of Russia's 89 regions, to be appointed by the regional governors and legislatures.

soldiers in chechnya
Mr Putin wants to centralise power away from regions like Chechnya

It was not immediately clear how parliament would respond to Mr Putin's proposal.

To become law, the Bills would have to be confirmed by the lower and upper houses.

Former President Boris Yeltsin granted regional leaders autonomy after the breakup of the Soviet Union.

It was a move seen as lifting the shackles from ethnic minorities who dominate some regions, and allowing greater freedom and regional autonomy.

Many local leaders seized sweeping, almost dictatorial powers.

Local dictators

In Sverdlovsk, the governor proposed ditching the shaky rouble and printing his own money.

In the Far East, a local governor threatened to declare war on China.

In many regions, leaders call themselves 'presidents', and some press freedom and human rights have been affected.

Opposition to Moscow in Chechnya has led to all out war.

Mr Putin has said that strengthening the central government was key to preventing "separatism that sometimes turns into a springboard for an even more dangerous evil, international terrorism".

"It's time to separate personal, local and political ambitions from a tough necessity to enforce statehood and strengthen power."

The president's first major policy move after his inauguration last week was to sign decrees reining in free-wheeling governors and dividing Russia's vast territory into seven geographic zones to make it easier for the Kremlin to manage them.

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See also:

09 May 00 | Europe
Putin hails Russian military
19 Dec 99 | Europe
Russians go to polls
14 Oct 99 | Europe
Shootout in St Petersburg
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