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Russian President Expresses Hope for New Year - 2004-01-01

Russian President Vladimir Putin has delivered an upbeat New Year's address on national television, saying 2003 was a good year for Russia, full of economic and social achievements.

President Putin told Russians that 2003 was a "successful year" for the country, and that hopes for the New Year are even better.

He acknowledged that mistakes were made in the past year, but said that people have a right to "trust in the future." He did not single out any specific instances of success or failure, but said the rising birthrate is a clear sign the country is facing its future with confidence.

The Russian leader spoke in a pre-recorded address that was televised just before midnight arrived in each of the country's 11 time zones. Many people took a few moments to listen, before continuing to party on one of the biggest holidays of the year.

Security was tight throughout Russia, especially in Moscow where a suicide bombing blamed on Chechen rebels left six people dead just a few weeks ago. New Year's revelers had to pass through several police checkpoints before reaching Red Square, the site of the country's biggest and often rowdiest public party.

There were far fewer people in Red Square and other public places this year than in the past, apparently deterred by fears of terrorism and the stringent security measures.

New Year marks the beginning of the winter holiday season in Russia. Orthodox Christmas is observed on January 7, and is followed a week later by the "Old New Year's," according to the Julian calendar.