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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    (February 2)

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    Today, the Central Election Commission (CEC) will take a decision on Vladimir Putin's registration as a candidate for the presidential elections, the NG daily reads. If his candidacy is approved, Putin's re-election campaign will officially start. Once he receives his candidate's certificate, which will happen probably on Tuesday, the chief of Putin's election headquarters will be appointed. Dmitry Kozak, first deputy head of the presidential administration, will be put in charge of the HQ, while Vladimir Litvinenko, rector of the Mining Institute and one of the president's closest associates, will be in charge of the main regional elections in Putin's home city of St Petersburg.

    Within the next few days, Putin will meet his authorised representatives and tell them about the main points of his election programme.

    The Kremlin is satisfied with the preliminary stage, i.e. the collection of signatures in support of Candidate Number One. Officials of all ranks, businessmen and intellectuals did their best to fulfil and over-fulfil the set plan. It is not yet clear whether the President will want his powers to be prolonged. At a meeting with journalists, he declined to reply to this question saying jokingly, "If the people ask me..." The people, it seems, do not have anything against this idea, and appeals to this effect have already been. During Putin's recent meeting with pensioners, a woman sincerely said, "I am ready to vote for Vladimir Putin in 2004 and 2008 as well."

    VEDOMOSTI

    Vedomosti features an open letter from the Russian Pensioners' Party, adopted at the party's extraordinary congress on January 29, to Vladimir Putin. The letter reads, in particular:

    "We address you on behalf of the Pensioners' Party, which was supported by more than two million Russian voters at the elections to the State Duma (the lower chamber of parliament) held on December 7.

    "Our party has never played the game of opposition for opposition's sake. And we have never tried to curry favour with the authorities. This gives us right to address you openly and sincerely today, shortly before the presidential elections.

    "The Pensioners' Party supported you in the 2000 elections. Today, we have no reason to regret our choice. After eight years of trouble and national humiliation, you have attained stability and economic growth, and restored the international community's respect for Russia. You have launched a fight against the oligarchs who are shamelessly robbing our country.

    "The Pensioners' Party supports your economic and international policy, and your measures aimed at bringing law and order to this country. However, this does not at all mean that we unreservedly support everything you and your closest circle have done.

    "We cannot support the state's policy towards Russian pensioners. They still remain the poorest and the most downtrodden section of society. Miserly pension rises cannot improve their situation.

    "Despite all this, the Pensioners' Party will support you in the forthcoming elections. We want to believe that all the mistakes and omissions of your first presidential term will be left in the past."

    GAZETA

    The Audit Chamber will check how the authorities of Chukotka (a northern region in Russia's Far East) allocate budget funds and how managers of the Sibneft oil company pay taxes, Gazeta writes. The chamber's officials stress that ordinary inspections will be conducted. However, it looks like Audit Chamber chairman Sergei Stepashin sees the problem in a broader context. He says he is displeased with the way Chukotka Governor Roman Abramovich spends his personal money - he spent too much on Chelsea football team and too little on a charity fund to help homeless children. Viewed against the backdrop of a check into the results of the privatisation campaign, which is being conducted by the Audit Chamber on the President's instructions, such statements look ominous. However, in the opinion of Gazeta's sources, it is unlikely that Abramovich will share the same fate as Mikhail Khodorkovsky, as his positions in the Kremlin are strong enough.

    "In keeping with the law, we have to check regularly how budget revenues are replenished. Within these limits, we are inspecting the oil companies. We shall once again check how they legally avoided paying taxes," said Alexander Semikolenny, deputy chairman of the Audit Chamber.

    IZVESTIA

    The Russian market for household electronic appliances is in for fundamental change, Izvestia writes. The idea has been prompted by Customs Committee. Customs offices have begun to conclude agreements with the producers of household appliances, according to which the latter will inform customs officers about the categorisation and sale prices for such goods exported to Russia. On the basis of this information, customs officers will force "grey" (unofficial) importers pay in full.

    As a result, the household appliances market will be rid of cheap "grey" electronics, while the prices of retail goods sold at unregulated markets will draw even with prices at chains, Izvestia says.

    KOMMERSANT

    Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev will run in the 2006 presidential elections for another term, according to an aide. This means, Kommersant writes, that Nazarbayev intends to rule his country for over 20 years, up to 2013.

    Nazarbayev is currently in his third term. To that end, he had to resort to all sorts of devices. In the mid-1990s, he initiated the adoption of a new constitution, which started a new count of presidential terms. In late 1998, he unexpectedly announced that early presidential elections would be called and did everything to bar his main rival, ex-prime minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin, from taking part in them. Criminal proceedings were then instituted against incumbent leader's rival. After winning the presidency without a fight in 1999, Nazarbayev made the obedient parliament pass a law on increasing the presidential term from four to seven years, and thus received the opportunity to rule the country for 23 years. And now, too, he is blocking any possibility of new rivals emerging on the scene, Kommersant notes.

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