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Russian Premier Addresses First Session Of New Duma

Moscow, 16 January 2004 (RFE/RL) -- Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov today opened the first session of Russia's new State Duma, emphasizing the need for better social policies.

Elections last month gave President Vladimir Putin control of the State Duma through the pro-Kremlin Unified Russia Party. Unified Russia holds more than 300 out of the State Duma's 450 seats.

Kasyanov noted Russia's continued economic growth, saying the ruble appreciation is giving Russians new-found confidence in their national currency. He said Russia is on track to double its gross national product in 10 years.

But Kasyanov also highlighted the need for legislators to address social problems. He said 28 million Russians out of a population of 145 million continue to live below the poverty line.

Kasyanov said the government is preparing 22 draft laws of priority importance for submission to parliament on reforming medical insurance, the pension system, and wages.