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Russia: Putin Seeking Government Changes To Strengthen Fight Against Terror --> Russian President Vladimir Putin today ordered sweeping changes to Russia's political system in the name of combating terrorism. The changes come in the wake of the Beslan school siege, but they immediately drew accusations that Putin is exploiting the tragedy to boost his personal power. Among the suggested changes are a new regional ministry and new election laws that, among other things, would call for the appointment -- rather than the election -- of regional governors.

13 September 2004 -- Putin said the changes were necessary to strengthen the national political system in the wake of the Beslan school tragedy in which more than 330 people died, half of them children.

"Combating terror is our common and chief goal, and its achievement depends on how effectively all the resources of the state and society are mobilized," Putin said.

Concerning Russia's upper house, the Federation Council -- once dominated by governors from Russia's 89 regions -- Putin proposed that the Kremlin should have a decisive say over who is nominated for governor.

"I believe that the top officials of the constituents of the Russian Federation must be elected by the legislative assemblies of territories after being nominated by the head of state," Putin said.

Regarding the lower house, Putin said in the future Duma deputies should be elected exclusively from party lists.

Currently, half of the 450 seats in the Duma are elected from party lists -- with the rest coming from single-mandate local constituencies. Putin said abolishing the single-mandate districts would improve the political system.

"National parties can become [a mechanism for] providing real dialogue and cooperation between society and authorities in the fight against terror. In the interest of strengthening the country's political system, I believe it is necessary to introduce a proportional system of elections to the State Duma," Putin said.

These changes would require parliamentary approval and in some cases may even require amending the constitution.

The changes were immediately criticized by Putin's opponents. Reuters quotes Vladimir Ryzhkov, a liberal parliamentarian, as saying: "Such proposals have nothing to do with the security of people of fighting terrorism. The Kremlin is simply using the momentum."

Putin today also called for re-establishing the Ministry of Regional and National Policies. The ministry was abolished in 1998 under former President Boris Yeltsin. Former St. Petersburg Governor Vladimir Yakovlev was named to head the ministry, while Chechnya's new leader Alu Alkahnov will lead its department on Chechnya.

And Putin announced the creation of a new Federal Commission for the North Caucasus, and named his representative in the Southern Federal District, Dmitrii Kozak, to head it.

Putin said the commission was needed to improve conditions in the North Caucasus, which he said lagged the rest of the country. He said poor economic conditions in places like Chechnya and Daghestan had formed part of the roots of terrorism.

"The North Caucasus is a most important strategic region of Russia. [At] the same time, [it is both] a victim of bloody terror and also its breeding ground. It is there that ideologists of international terror act particularly actively, and they are using our mistakes in their crimes and their criminal plans," Putin said.

Putin repeated the phrases of Russia's armed forces' chief and defense minister last week that the country would take its battle against terrorism outside the country's borders. The Russian president said security agencies need to eliminate terrorists wherever they are.