Putin accepts chairmanship of ruling United Russia party

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Moscow, Apr 15 (UNI) Ahead of being appointed as Prime Minister early next month, outgoing Russian President Vladimir Putin today accepted the offer of the post of chairman of the ruling United Russia party at its two-day congress.

The party congress was shown live on the Russian TV channel.

About 600 delegates attended the crucial congress, who unanimously approved Mr Putin's candidacy for the post, expected to give strategic control over the party during the next four years.

''I am grateful to accept the proposal made by party members and leaders,'' Mr Putin said addressing the congress delegates.

''The party congress's decision will come into force after the President-elect is sworn in and I hand over presidential powers,'' he added.

The President-elect Dmitry Medvedev is scheduled to be inaugurated to the office on May 7 after which Mr Medvedev is expected to appoint Mr Putin as Prime Minister on May 8.

Mr Medvedev was also present at the Congress. But both leaders declined to be member of the party.

''I do not believe it is sensible for a head of state, wherever his political affections are, to lead a party. Here I fully agree with Dmitry Anatolyevich Medvedev,'' Mr Putin said referring to Mr Medvedev's decision not to join the party.

''As for the chairman of the government (Prime Minister), a situation in which the head of the executive branch leads a party is a civilised and natural practice that is traditional for democratic states,'' Mr Putin told the congress.

''Coordinated work between the government and the parliamentary majority allows us to successfully resolve the tasks of developing the economy, enhancing the quality of healthcare and education, raising the income of the population and strengthening the country's defence,'' he said.

Mr Putin also called for the party to be reformed, to make it more open to debate, stressing party should be purged of people pursuing their own narrow interests.

United Russia party has long been criticised for being merely a Kremlin tool in parliament, with large numbers of bureaucrats and businessmen seeking lucrative connections.

Political observers said the chairmanship of the ruling party would bolster Mr Putin's power after he steps down as Kremlin leader.

Under the Russian constitution, the Prime Minister is subservient to the President and historically has been occupied by politically weak technocrats but the post of party leader will now give Mr Putin extra clout, they said.

UNI XC PD VC1905

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