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Putin Paints Upbeat Picture of Russian Economy at Global Conference

Russian President Vladimir Putin has opened a two-day international economic conference with a rosy economic forecast and a call for more foreign companies to do business in his country.

Speaking Tuesday to global business and government leaders in St. Petersburg, Mr. Putin said Russia no longer needs foreign loans to move its economy forward.

The Russian leader said post-Soviet Russia has attracted more than 100 billion dollars in cumulative foreign investment. He also said Russian gold and hard currency reserves this year could exceed the combined total of state and private foreign debt.

Mr. Putin told his audience that the four biggest problems with the Russian economy are inflation (running about nine percent annually), monopolies, bureaucracy and corruption.

He was to hold talks with several regional heads-of-state, including Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili, Serbian Prime Minister Vojislav Kostunica and the leaders of Finland and Latvia.

On the sidelines of the forum, General Motors Corporation broke ground today near St. Petersburg on its first fully owned plant in Russia, where foreign car sales rose more than 60 percent in 2005.

Volkswagen AG signed a deal last month to build a huge plant outside Moscow. And Japan's Nissan Motor Company signed a preliminary deal Tuesday calling for construction of a 50,000-vehicle assembly plant near St. Petersburg.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP .