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Russian Duma Passes Controversial Social Reform Bill

4 August 2004 -- In a key second reading, Russia's lower house of parliament yesterday passed a controversial bill that would replace Soviet-style social benefits with cash payments.

The State Duma passed the bill by a vote of 304 to 120, with one lawmaker abstaining.

Some 200 protesters gathered near the Duma yesterday to protest the bill. Critics say the cash payments would be diminished by inflation and would not be adequate compensation.

But Duma speaker Boris Gryzlov today dismissed those concerns.

"It is my deep personal conviction that the situation [of the recipients of social benefits] will definitely improve starting 1 January 2005 [when the proposed law would come into effect]. The government now has the resources to ensure that, as a result of significant economic growth," Gryzlov said.

The Duma approved the concept of the bill in the first reading on 2 July.

After a final third reading, which is expected to be mostly technical, the bill faces approval by the upper house, the Federation Council, before going to President Vladimir Putin for his signature.

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