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    Kuril development program to boost population, output - Gref

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    MOSCOW, August 3 (RIA Novosti) - The government program for the social and economic development of the Kuril Islands in 2007-2015 will boost the population and industrial output 50%, the economics minister said Thursday.

    Under the program, approved Thursday by the government in broad outline, about 17 billion rubles ($630 million) will be made available to spend on improving the socio-economic situation on the Pacific chain of 56 islands.

    "The program's implementation will double the region's bio-resources and increase fish processing revenues 150%," Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref told a government meeting. "Industrial output will grow 50% in real terms."

    Gref said the program would also provide for the stable population growth on the islands, which are home to more than 19,000 people. The number of local residents is expected to rise to 28,000-30,000 people.

    "All of them will be provided with jobs," Gref said.

    The minister outlined the priorities for the Kuril Islands: to develop the transport infrastructure, reduce the prime cost of electricity, boost the development of local fisheries and develop tourism.

    Gref said a recreational and tourism area could be established on the Kuril Islands if it could be proven to be cost-effective, and he also said the government program aimed to create an effective economy on the Kuril Islands within the next 10 years.

    However, the minister downplayed the significance of the program in terms of a territorial dispute over four of the islands with Japan, which claims them as its "northern territories."

    Gref said the program had "nothing to do with the transfer or non-transfer of the four islands to Japan."

    The dispute over the sovereignty of the southernmost Kuril Islands, under the administration of Russia's Sakhalin Region, dates back to the end of World War II, when the Soviet Union claimed the islands under Allied agreements.

    Japan has consistently stated it wants the islands back and the row has prevented Russia and Japan from signing a peace treaty officially ending the war.

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