Putin calls for powerful Russia parliament

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MOSCOW, Oct 18 (Reuters) Russian President Vladimir Putin called today for a powerful parliament and unchanged policies after he leaves the Kremlin, hinting he may go on to use a power base in parliament to dominate the country.

Putin's intentions after his second presidential term ends next year have attracted intense interest following his decision to head the candidates' list of United Russia, the biggest political party, and consider becoming a future prime minister.

''In 2007 and 2008 we have parliamentary and presidential elections and there will be a different person in the Kremlin,'' Putin said in a three-hour question-and-answer session with citizens televised live.

''In these conditions it is extremely important to preserve a stable path of development for our state and the continuity of decisions taken in the past few years... It is vital that parliament is effective.'' Putin spent most of the session talking about domestic, bread-and-butter issues such as pensions, wages, schools, prices and investment in Russia's crumbling infrastructure.

With an eye on a parliamentary election in December, Putin repeatedly hailed Russia's high economic growth and improved living standards. He promised higher pensions to help fight runaway inflation, which is heading for double digits this year.

Speaking to soldiers at the Plesetsk Cosmodrome in Russia's far north who earlier on Thursday test-fired a ballistic missile, Putin promised new nuclear and conventional weapons as part of Moscow's military build-up.

He referred more than once to Iraq's experience, which he said showed the need for Russia to keep strong defences to counter countries that might try to grab its energy resources.

''Thank God Russia is not Iraq,'' Putin told a questioner. ''It is strong enough to protect its interests.'' Putin told the United States to set a date for withdrawing all troops from Iraq and said it was ''absolutely unacceptable to keep the occupation force in place ... for eternity.

CENTRE OF GRAVITY An analyst said Putin's remarks about a strong parliament contained clues to how he will retain influence after 2008.

''One of the scenarios is that there will be a strong pro-Putin majority in parliament and the centre of gravity of political life will move towards that majority,'' independent analyst Dmitry Oreshkin told Reuters.

''Since parliament will in effect be controlled by Putin then correspondingly all policy in the country will be controlled by Putin.'' On foreign policy, Putin warned Washington against striking Iran, whose nuclear programme has been the subject of United Nations sanctions.

Touching on Washington's plans for a missile defence shield in Europe and Asia, which have angered Russia, Putin said the United States was trying to address Moscow's concerns.

But he said Russia may decide to re-deploy its weapons if its interests were not heeded.

Speaking in front of a studio backdrop decorated in Russia's national colours, the president congratulated troops on successfully test-firing a long-range missile, praised the national soccer team for beating England the previous day and pledged new and better weapons for the armed forces.

''We will develop missile technology including completely new strategic (nuclear) complexes, completely new,'' Putin said.

''Work is continuing and continuing successfully.'' ''We will not only give attention to the whole nuclear triad -- strategic rocket forces, strategic aviation and the nuclear submarine fleet -- but also other types of weapons''.

Putin has said he will lend his support to a preferred presidential candidate in the elections but gave no hint on Thursday of who that might be.

Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov was the only top official he praised by name. Putin extolled the virtues of Zubkov's fight against corruption in his previous role running a anti-money laundering watchdog.

REUTERS SKB RAI2018

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