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Russia's Putin Rules Out Changing Constitution to Allow Third Term

Russian President Vladimir Putin says he will not try to change the Constitution to seek a third term in office. During a nearly-three-hour live television call in show, Mr. Putin fielded questions on issues ranging from the economy to the situation in the war-torn republic of Chechnya.

Kremlin officials say more than 700,000 questions were submitted via a toll-free call-in center, live video link, e-mail, and text-messages.

Most questions focused on social issues, such as pensions, wages, jobs and health care.

But one questioner asked the president if he would consider running for a third term in 2008. Such a move is forbidden by Russia's Constitution. President Putin said he would not seek to change the constitution. He said his task is to create strong conditions for Russia's long-term development, not, as he put it, to serve in the Kremlin forever.

Mr. Putin said he would "find a place in the ranks," fueling speculation with his cryptic statement that he might be looking for ways to retain some influence after 2008.

One questioner, accountant Irina Kiseleva, asked what the government plans to do to control rising gasoline prices.

President Putin said the issue is of vital concern and that his administration will soon take steps to stabilize prices by introducing a new system of taxes on Russian oil companies.

Mr. Putin accuses Russia's eight largest oil companies of taking advantage of the situation to set higher prices for consumers. But overall, he said, Russia's economic situation is good, with real wages growing by nearly 10 percent annually.

In a departure from the question and answer sessions he has held in past years, the president took several questions via live satellite link-up to Grozny, the capital of Russia's southern Republic of Chechnya. It was here that perhaps the only uncomfortable question of the day was raised.

A woman told the president her son was kidnapped four years ago. She then asked, "is anybody going to take responsibility for that?"

The president replied it is often impossible to identify those who are behind such crimes, but says work toward that end is continuing.

Other questions from Grozny focused on compensation claims filed by those who have lost loved ones during Russia's military campaigns against Chechen separatists over the past decade, as well as how to deal with rampant unemployment and promote long-term stabilization and restoration.

The only foreign policy question concerned Russia's long-standing territorial dispute with Japan over the Kuril Islands. President Putin again ruled out any negotiations with Japan over the isles, saying they are under sovereignty of the Russian Federation.

Fielding numerous questions about the economy, Mr. Putin assured his viewers, and listeners on state radio, that his number one priority is to raise their living standards.