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    WHAT THE RUSSIAN PAPERS SAY

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    January 30

    IZVESTIA

    The majority of Russians reject the idea of boycotting the March 14 presidential elections, Izvestia writes. According to the results of a survey conducted by the Public Opinion Foundation (FOM), only 7% of respondents favour this idea, whereas 69 % reject it. A quarter of those polled are undecided. The answers to the question of whether or not citizens intend to take part in elections divided in approximately the same proportion: in particular, 7% of respondents finally decided that they would not to go to the polls.

    However, experts note that it is too early to claim that the voters will not pay heed to those calling for an election boycott. There is still time before March and the supporters of this idea may find convincing arguments and win a certain number of voters over to their side.

    The arguments expressed against the ideas of boycott boil down to the following three main points, Izvestia says. Firstly, a boycott deprives voters of the opportunity to express their opinion. Secondly, it may lead to the elections being declared null and void and taxpayers will have to pay for them to be held again. Thirdly, a boycott may lead to a situation where Vladimir Putin stops being the president, stability is upset in the country and economic and social upheavals begin.

    Those promoting the boycott idea stand accused of bringing pressure to bear on voters, imposing their opinion on them, attempting to destabilise the situation in the country, sow discord and cause anarchy.

    Lastly, the initiators of the boycott have been accused of a lack of patriotism and called traitors and "sore losers" who want to take revenge for failures in the December 7 parliamentary elections.

    VEDOMOSTI

    The Audit Chamber intends to join the all-out war declared by the President on corruption, Vedomosti says. Today, the auditors are to approve a plan to examine the potential for corruption in Russian legislation and the system of authority. Experts believe that this move by the Audit Chamber is another one in the struggle for the presidency, the newspaper notes.

    Under the research plan of the Audit Chamber for 2004, which Vedomosti has a copy of, it will take the auditors nine months to study in detail "the problem of identifying corruption in the system of state authority". By October 2004 a special research institute attached to the Audit Chamber will analyse "the sources of corruption and its methods," assess the corruption potential of Russian legislation and work out the methods to identify abuses of power and "instances of corruption".

    These methods will be used during check and inspections conducted by the Audit Chamber "in co-operation with law-enforcement agencies". One will be able to see whether an action is a case of corruption by using a special automated information system, called "Corruption," which is to be designed by the research institute.

    In the words of a source close to the Audit Chamber, the auditors have included the study of the corruption problem in the research plan on the recommendations of Audit Chamber head Sergei Stepashin, who, in his turn, received the relevant instructions from President Vladimir Putin.

    VREMYA NOVOSTEI

    The system of business associations functioning in Russia today might soon cease to exist, remarks VN. The three main entrepreneurial "columns" - the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs (big business), or RSPP, Delovaya Rossiya (medium business) and OPORA (small business) - may merge into one organisation unprecedented in scale and scope.

    The suggestion, the paper informs its readers, comes from Interros Holding head Vladimir Potanin, a member of the RSPP bureau. He sent a letter to RSPP president Arkady Volsky, saying, "It is time to reform the existing entrepreneurial organisations". In the view of Mr Potanin, "work within one organisation will promote the interests of the whole business community more energetically".

    But, Vremya Novostei notes, despite all the appeal of the idea to businessmen of all sizes, there is the likelihood that a new mega-community will be buried before it is born - RSPP members are hardly ready for real equality with the "minors".

    KOMMERSANT

    In Iraq, there is a growing struggle for the distribution of contracts to rebuild the country and produce oil, the paper says. Results of tenders will be announced in a month's time. Ahead of the decisive contest, Baghdad is getting sensational news that may influence the division of Iranian oil. The newspaper Al Mada carried a list of firms and politicians who received bribes from Saddam Hussein. Russia is firmly in the lead on this list, stresses Kommersant. Lebanon, Jordan and Syria are credited with 14 points, Ukraine 12, France 11, and Russia 46.

    The publication of the secret list, Kommersant believes, will not only benefit companies that were not mentioned, but give a new trump card to the US administration. While earlier Washington had to hear accusations of pacifists saying that the true aim of the war was to capture Iraqi oil, now it can reverse the charges. It appears that the confirmed opponents of the war were so vociferous because they themselves profited from Iraqi oil. And so the war was justified, because it returns the oil into the hands of the Iraqi people.

    NEZAVISIMAYA GAZETA

    The current decade in Russia, NG says, will see a sharp drop in school graduations (more than 40%) and a corresponding fall in the admission to all institutions of vocational training. The population situation is such that in 2008 places available at Russian higher educational establishments will be enough for all secondary school leavers. According to the Ministry of Education, in four years' time, the eleventh grades of secondary schools will turn out a mere 800,000 graduates. This compares with two million who applied to Russian colleges and universities this year for full- and part-time studies, Nezavisimaya Gazeta notes.

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