Russian PM slams funding delay for quake victims

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MOSCOW, Sep 19 (Reuters) Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov made his first major public policy decision today, slamming delays in helping thousands of people who were made homeless by last month's Sakhalin earthquake in the Far East.

Zubkov, appointed by President Vladimir Putin last Friday to replace Mikhail Fradkov, told ministers to speed work on helping the victims of the quake, which left 8,000 people homeless.

''The president asked me to get to the bottom of the situation and naturally, of course, ensure measures so that people do not suffer,'' Zubkov said.

''Measures to build real homes need to be taken,'' Zubkov was shown saying on Russian state television. He added that 8,000 people remained in temporary housing more than a month after the event despite government pledges to provide urgent help.

Putin has criticised both local officials and ministers in Fradkov's government for failing to deal with the situation.

Zubkov, a 66-year-old former head of a anti-money laundering agency, said on Tuesday that the structure of the new government would be announced by Friday.

Kremlin watchers seeking clues about the direction of Russian policy during the election year -- and after -- are waiting to see which ministers will be dropped from the cabinet.

Chris Weafer, chief strategist at Moscow investment bank Uralsib, said investors are watching to see how Zubkov performs as prime minister after Putin said he was one of five possible candidates for president in 2008.

''If we start seeing Zubkov pushing a very strong, high-profile role and a sort of in your face agenda I think that would certainly be confirmation that he is the one who is being lined up to be the successor,'' Weafer told Reuters.

To deal with the Sakhalin quake, Zubkov called a meeting in Moscow with Finance Minister Alexei Kudrin, Emergencies Minister Sergei Shoigu, Regional Development Minister Vladimir Yakovlev and Sakhalin governor Alexander Khoroshavin.

Speaking slowly but sternly, Zubkov criticised delays to emergency funding to help people in Sakhalin and said that 1.18 million square feet of news housing needed to be built.

''On August 9,the government took the a decision... to resolve several urgent organisational and financial questions. Today is September 19 and 40 days have passed but many questions are still not resolved, above all financial questions,'' he said.

''Money has still not arrived in the region however Alexei Kudrin told me it will be sent today, funds from the reserve fund have still not been allocated, not one kopeck though there is serious money in on the funds accounts.'' Russia's Finance Ministry said in a statement after the meeting that 800 million roubles 31.56 million dollars had been transferred today to help build housing and repair infrastructure.

REUTERS GL BD2129

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