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    Putin vows to tackle illegal immigration

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    Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged Tuesday to counter illegal immigration in the country, and at the same time to simplify the legalization of those living and working here.

    ST. PETERSBURG, October 24 (RIA Novosti) - Russian President Vladimir Putin pledged Tuesday to counter illegal immigration in the country, and at the same time to simplify the legalization of those living and working here.

    Millions of illegal immigrants from struggling former Soviet republics have flooded Russia since the breakup of the Soviet Union, bringing with them a rise in crime and a wave of xenophobic sentiment in response.

    "I think we will be understood if we cope with illegal immigration and simultaneously ease procedures to legalize those working and living in Russia," Putin said at a forum looking into the problems of Russians living abroad.

    He added that procedures to obtain residence and work permits in Russia will be considerably simplified as of January 15. "Employers will have a greater share of the responsibility, and administrative barriers will be removed," he said.

    Putin issued instructions October 5 to introduce quotas on foreign workers by November 15, regulate trade in markets and set the term for the continuous stay of foreigners with visas at no more than 90 days for every six months.

    The government press service said at the time that the documents would aim to reinforce national security, maintain an optimal balance of labor in the country, as well as provide Russian citizens with priority in employment.

    Many traders in markets across Russia are from former Soviet republics in the Caucasus region and former Central Asian Soviet states, as well as China and Vietnam, and many are in the country illegally.

    The president said criminal groups control markets, whereas market administrations, agricultural producers and police play a secondary role there, adding that the situation has outraged many Russians.

    "This is the key to the problems we have faced recently," Putin said, referring to a series of violent attacks on dark-skinned people in Russia and the two latest race-hate cases in a Moscow market and a northern town.

    An explosive device was detonated at the Cherkizovsky market in northeastern Moscow August 21, killing 11 people and injuring at least 49, mostly Asians.

    And two Russians were killed in a restaurant brawl with Chechen immigrants in the northern town of Kondopoga in early September, sparking racial mob violence in the community and a wave of anti-immigration protests elsewhere in the country.

    At the same time, Russia, which is facing an acute demographic crisis, has been considering a streamlined registration procedure for guest workers, and an improvement in their living conditions.

    The president's immigration demands came amid an acute crisis with Georgia, its former Soviet ally in the South Caucasus. Since a spying scandal involving Russian army officers in Georgia in late September, Russia has suspended travel and postal links with the country, shut down at least three casinos in Moscow allegedly owned by the Georgian mafia, arrested Georgian crime bosses and deported hundreds of Georgians illegally living in Russia.

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