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    Putin says president will remain key political figure in Russia

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    Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the president will remain the main political figure in Russia but the role of parliament in the political life of the country will gradually increase in the future.

    MOSCOW, May 31 (RIA Novosti) - Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said the president will remain the main political figure in Russia but the role of parliament in the political life of the country will gradually increase in the future.

    Ex-president Putin became prime minister on May 8 after ceding presidential powers to his handpicked successor Dmitry Medvedev, who won the March presidential elections.

    "Russia is a presidential republic, and we are not going to change the head of state's key role in the country's political system," Putin said in an interview with French daily Le Monde released on Saturday.

    "What is more important is the fact that I simultaneously lead a party which occupies the lead role in our political life, and which has a stable majority in parliament," he added.

    He said the Russian leadership had shifted the focus on the development of a multi-party political system and would ensure the increasing role of parliament in the political life of the country.

    "This is the main political signal," the premier stressed.

    He also downplayed the importance of the current political structure and said Russia now had an efficient team to govern the country for years to come.

    "The team currently in place is very competent, very professional, full of specialists, as well as those elected to parliament whom we support," Putin said.

    "As to the distribution of responsibilities within Russia, there is no ambiguity," he said. "The president without question has the final word. And the president today is Mr. Medvedev."

    In a wide-ranging interview, Putin also commented on NATO's expansion, the situation in Chechnya, the political row with Georgia over Abkhazia, Iran's nuclear ambitions and the fate of Russia's former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky.

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