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Russia's Medvedev Invites Lawmakers To Criticize Government

Dmitry Medvedev (file photo)

Dmitry Medvedev (file photo)

MOSCOW (Reuters) -- Russian President Dmitry Medvedev has invited local lawmakers in unusual remarks to criticize the government's handling of the deepening economic crisis.

"It's clear that discussions are possible and even necessary on issues within your responsibilities, which are first and foremost overcoming the crisis," Medvedev told a Kremlin meeting with the leaders of 83 regional legislative assemblies.

"There is nothing surprising about you criticizing the [government's] course," Medvedev added. "Naturally, you should come out with arguments in support of the course, if you believe it is correct."

Medvedev's remarks contrast with the tone of his mentor, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, who in his eight years as president built a system, where criticism was frowned upon and the ruling party said parliament was not a place for debate.

But with the economic crisis and soaring unemployment, the Kremlin is increasingly concerned about possible social turmoil and Medvedev has called for a more flexible political system.

The Kremlin chief, sworn in as president in May 2008, has proposed giving seats in parliament to small opposition parties, which under Putin disappeared from the lower house.

Medvedev said the Russian authorities were working in a coordinated way and made a clear jab at Ukraine, saying turmoil in a neighboring country could lead it to a default.

"We do not have political problems, which is good, because a country, which goes through a crisis with political difficulties, [has] a high chance of going into a default," he said.

"Look at what our neighbors are doing. The situation is tough enough, but on top of that there is a permanent state of political tension and internal clan war," he said.

Russia's regional legislatures are still dominated by Putin's Unified Russia party and its allies, but have remained more diverse than the national parliament.

"You represent the full spectrum of political life in modern Russia," Medvedev told the lawmakers.

Two-thirds of Russia's 83 regions depend on donations from the federal budget, so analysts say local lawmakers are likely to be the first to face public anger at spending cuts.

Last month the governor of the Siberian region of Krasnoyarsk, Aleksandr Khloponin, publicly warned that some areas had only few months' reserves to ensure the most sensitive social spending.

In the chaos of the 1990s, many Communist-dominated local legislatures were strong opponents of the Kremlin's market reforms and tried to withhold federal taxes from Moscow.

But Medvedev warned local legislators against populism.

"In the current circumstances populism and demagogy are out of place," he said. "And it is completely impermissible to allow regional parliaments to get involved in lobbying for anyone's selfish interests."