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Russia: Duma Approves Stepashin

Moscow, 19 May 1999 (RFE/RL) - Sergei Stepashin was overwhelmingly approved as prime minister by lawmakers in Russia's lower house of parliament today after vowing tough measures to improve the country's living standards. During confirmation hearings prior to today's vote, Stepashin told deputies he wanted to speed up reforms and boost Russia's economic recovery from last summer's financial crisis. Stepashin promised to pay-off all back wages to public sector workers and pensioners and vowed to crack down on crime and corruption which he said are paralyzing the country.

Deputies had earlier vowed not to approve Stepashin, a move that could have led to the eventual dissolution of parliament and new elections. Correspondents said deputies felt the risk of dissolution outweighed approving a prime minister who did not have widespread support of all factions.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin's spokesman Alexander Kotenkov described the outcome as an indisputable victory for the president.

Russian Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov, however, said his faction will boycott the new prime minister's government and criticized Stepashin for lacking a clear economic program.

The Russian news agency ITAR-TASS reports that Yeltsin and Stepashin met after the confirmation hearings for two hours in the Kremlin. The agency says Yeltsin congratulated Stepashin on the outcome of the vote and signed the decree formally appointing Stepashin prime minister.