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    Two regions in Siberia could merge following referendum

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    NOVO-OGARYOVO, March 1 (RIA Novosti) - Two regions in East Siberia could form a new administrative subject of the Russian Federation following a referendum March 11.

    Residents of the Chita Region and the Agin Buryat autonomous district will vote on merging into the Trans-Baikal Territory.

    The initiative was launched by local authorities in order to "boost the development of both areas and improve the living conditions of the population."

    Russian President Vladimir Putin supported the move as part of the Kremlin's ongoing campaign to simplify the administrative-territorial division of the country, and to further tighten federal control over budget spending and efficient governance in the regions.

    According to Russia's Finance Ministry, only 18 of 88 administrative subjects of the Russian Federation are capable of raising sufficient budget revenues without federal assistance.

    Some experts believe Moscow is seeking to eliminate autonomous districts altogether, making them part of larger regional groupings.

    The first move in that direction was the merger of the Komi-Perm autonomous district with the Perm Region to form the Perm Territory. In addition, the Taimyr (Dolgano-Nenets) and Evenkiya autonomous districts have been considered part of the Krasnoyarsk Territory as of January 1, 2007.

    If the results of the upcoming referendum are positive, the new subject of the Russian Federation could be formed by March 1, 2008 and elections of the local legislature could be held in October 2008.

    The Agin Buryat autonomus district is located in the center of the Chita Region.

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