Russian PM pulls plug on televised cabinet meetings

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MOSCOW, Oct 18 (Reuters) Russian Prime Minister Viktor Zubkov halted the live broadcast of cabinet meetings today, saying the television cameras were stifling debate.

The practice of showing the meetings on television, instituted by Zubkov's predecessor Mikhail Fradkov, provided a rare glimpse into the workings of the government and entertainment for Russians amused by ministers' antics.

At today's session, Zubkov was shown opening the meeting with a congratulations to the Russian team on beating England in a Euro 2008 soccer qualifier. Then the signal was cut.

''As far as I understand this is the generally accepted practice,'' government spokesman Alexander Zharov said, explaining the decision.

''It is more comfortable for members of the cabinet to work like that considering the nature of the information discussed at meetings,'' he said.

Zubkov, who some observers say is being groomed by President Vladimir Putin to be Russia's next president, has used the televised cabinet meetings to striking effect since his appointment last month.

He established a reputation as a tough manager by telling a minister: ''How dare you not fulfil an order from the Russian president?'' Spokesman Zharov said instead of the open cabinet meetings, ministers will answer questions from journalists after their session has finished.

Under Fradkov, the meetings were often the stage for political theatre, sometimes descending into farce.

The former prime minister was seen upbraiding ministers with folksy proverbs and ungrammatical Russian that gave rise to a new expression: the ''Fradkism.'' Fradkov, who now heads Russia's foreign spy service, was shown frequently jousting with former Economy Minister German Gref about everything from horses to macro-economic theory.

Analysts and investors generally took a light-hearted view of the public clashes because most major policy decisions are taken in the Kremlin, not by the government.

REUTERS SKB ND1432

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