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Russia Marks 10th Anniversary of Constitution


Russia is marking the 10th anniversary of its constitution, which critics say gives too much power to the presidency. But President Vladimir Putin has praised the law of the land, saying it has helped stabilize Russia through the tumultuous changes of the post-Soviet era.

Russia's constitution was adopted in a national referendum 10 years ago, after a commission labored for more than a year to write it.

Ever since, to mark the importance the Kremlin attaches to the document, Russians mark the anniversary with a national holiday, declared by former President Boris Yeltsin.

The constitution's approval in 1993 was not without controversy, coming just two months after a bloody confrontation between Mr. Yeltsin and the previous parliament.

Deputies of the Soviet-era Congress of People's Deputies challenged Mr. Yeltsin in a power struggle that led the parliamentarians to barricade themselves inside the parliament building, or White House.

Military forces loyal to the president eventually stormed the building, killing more than 100 people in the process.

Critics say the constitution grants far too much power to the president because it was drafted at a time when the parliament was considered a direct threat to executive power.

Marking the anniversary, President Putin acknowledged that the document has flaws. But he said the constitution's positive aspects far outweigh the negative, especially in light of the turmoil that existed in 1993.

"You remember as well as I do, or perhaps even better, the conditions under which it was adopted and what role it played," he said, "so that the situation in the country stabilized.

It took a long time for this to happen," he continued. "Sure, perhaps the constitution is somewhat inadequate. But it is still necessary for the country to develop into a democracy."

The constitution has been questioned again this week because of the overwhelming victory for parliamentarians loyal to President Putin in last Sunday's elections.

Pro-Kremlin parties won more than enough votes in the 450-seat chamber to enable them to make changes to the constitution, including the provision that limits the president to two four-year terms.

But Mr. Putin denies he may be tempted to make such a change after his expected re-election to a second term in March.

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