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    Russia's lower house of parliament approved Vladimir Putin as prime minister on Thursday, a day after he stepped down as president following eight years as head of state.

    (Recasts throughout, adds details, background in paras 9-15)

    MOSCOW, May 8 (RIA Novosti) - Russia's lower house of parliament approved Vladimir Putin as prime minister on Thursday, a day after he stepped down as president following eight years as head of state.

    All 448 lawmakers were in parliament for the vote. Putin was overwhelmingly approved 392 to 56 votes, an expected outcome as the ruling pro-Kremlin United Russia party holds a two thirds majority in the State Duma.

    The Communists were the only faction to vote against Putin.

    Speaking after the vote, President Dmitry Medvedev, sworn in on Wednesday, said: "I am positive we will continue to enjoy fruitful cooperation between the executive and legislative branches of power, the like of which we witnessed today in the State Duma."

    Medvedev, 42, first offered the post of premier to Putin after being nominated as a presidential candidate by United Russia and three other pro-Kremlin parties in December.

    He officially nominated Putin as premier after the inauguration ceremony at the Kremlin, and signed a decree formalizing the nomination a little over an hour after the Duma's Thursday vote.

    Barred from a third consecutive presidential term, Putin anointed his ally Medvedev as successor to run in the March presidential elections and agreed to become premier in the event of his victory.

    As premier, Putin will largely oversee the economy, but is also expected to retain a large degree of influence in other spheres. He will control the State Duma as head of the dominant United Russia, a post he accepted last month after propelling the party to a sweeping victory in parliamentary polls last December.

    Putin and Medvedev have assured their tandem will work and be able to coexist together ensuring the country's further growth.

    In his 40-minute address to the State Duma, Putin pledged further efforts to improve living standards in the country.

    He said his future government's priorities would be to cut the economy's reliance on hydrocarbon exports, improve welfare, increase investment in decaying infrastructure, cut taxes for oil producers in a bid to tackle declining production, curb inflation and launch an anti-tobacco and alcohol campaign, which he called "a real plague" for Russia devastating its population.

    After the vote Putin thanked MPs for the backing he said was "a sign of trust and support for our strategic programs and readiness to work hard to make Russia even stronger and improve citizens' lives."

    Speaking earlier on Thursday, Communist leader Gennady Zyuganov said his faction would not vote for Putin, who he blamed for a dramatic population decline and a clampdown on democracy. He also said Russia's growth had mainly been driven by booming oil prices, and described the country's position as "extremely difficult."

    Putin, 55, briefly served as premier in 1999 under the late Boris Yeltsin. He then replaced Yeltsin as head of state after the ailing leader's surprise resignation on December 31, 1999.

    He is now expected to propose a Cabinet within a week's time.

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