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Medvedev Slashes Interior Ministry Budget

Did he just say "20 percent"!?

Did he just say "20 percent"!?

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has ordered a one-fifth cut to the staff of the 1.4 million-strong Interior Ministry after a series of scandals involving the police.

If implemented, the reform could affect at least 280,000 people and would amount to one of the most ambitious reforms of Russia's bloated bureaucracy since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

In a presidential decree, Medvedev ordered a 20 percent cut to the Interior Ministry's staff -- which includes the police, interior ministry troops, investigators and civilian officials -- by Jan 1, 2012, the Kremlin said.

“A huge amount of complaints from our citizens have been piling up about the work of the Interior Ministry," Medvedev told an interview with three state-controlled television stations. "We need rather tough and serious changes."

Medvedev said in the decree that disciplinary problems and law breaking by police officers had provoked widespread concerns in society and were undermining the authority of the state, making the reform essential.

The decree enters force immediately, though it was unclear what compensation those laid off would receive.

The move comes after a series of scandals involving the Russian police, including one case when a police major went on a shooting spree in a Moscow supermarket, killing at least two people.

Endemic bribe-taking and documented cases of torture while in custody have earned the police a fearful reputation in Russian society and many crimes are simply not reported for fear of coming into contact with the force.

"People want to be protected by policemen who are flawless morally and, what is more important, impeccable from the legal point of view, people who can be trusted," Medvedev said. "I am confident we will be able to create such a structure."

Under the plans, Medvedev ordered a reform of the ministry and better procedures to root out corruption and to vet candidates.

Previous attempts to reform Russia's notorious bureaucracy have failed and opponents of the Kremlin have criticized Medvedev for failing to root out corruption, as he promised after becoming president in 2008.