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Putin: Russia's Fight Against Terrorism Will Not Sidetrack Reforms - 2004-09-24


Russian President Vladimir Putin is defending his government's efforts to strengthen and centralize control in the wake of several recent terrorist attacks. Mr. Putin sought in a speech Friday, to allay concerns that the new measures will lead to further restrictions on the press and democratic institutions.

Russian President Putin says his nation's intensified fight against terrorism will not mean reduced democratic freedoms in Russia, but rather, greater stability.

He said the very existence of Russia was at stake and that, as such, stringent measures must be taken. But in televised remarks before international media executives in Moscow Friday, Mr. Putin also said there would be no turnabout in the country's strides toward democracy.

President Putin said Russia is not planning to do anything other democratic countries have not already done in fighting terror. He also said Russia made its choice for a democratic, free-market state 10 years ago, and that his government would see to it that the nation stays that course.

For Russia, he said, democracy and stability are of equal importance.

President Putin's address comes one day after a phone call with President Bush, during which the U.S. President stressed the need for Russia to preserve its democratic institutions while fighting terrorism. The European Union has also expressed concern about President Putin's anti-terror proposals, which include an overhaul of the electoral system and a strengthening of security agencies.

Nearly 450 people have died in Russia in the past month, in a wave of terrorist attacks that included the downing of two Russian planes, a subway suicide bombing, and the armed siege of an elementary school.

President Putin also addressed concerns about media restrictions, saying Russia's fight against terrorism would not be used to justify restrictions.

Mr. Putin said press criticism of the government is an often painful, but useful reality, and that Russia's adherence to the principles of a free press are, "irreversible." But he said the media should become "an effective instrument," in the fight against terrorism.

President Putin also defended his government's crackdown on Russia's largest oil company, Yukos, saying the moves are not aimed at nationalizing the company or pushing it into bankruptcy, as some Russian and Western critics allege.

The Russian president said Yukos is a private company accused of tax evasion and that Russia has every right to ensure the state's interest.

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