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Putin offers Russian mothers cash for more babies

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, May 10 (Reuters) President Vladimir Putin today said that Russia's population was shrinking so fast the state would pay women to have more children.

''Let's talk about the most acute problem facing Russia -- demography,'' the Kremlin leader said in his annual state-of-the-nation address. ''The number of our citizens shrinks by an average of 700,000 people each year.'' To rapturous applause from his Russian establishment audience, Putin said the government would include special finance to boost the birth rate in next year's budget.

He proposed more than doubling monthly payouts to families for the first baby to 1,500 roubles, and giving twice that for a second child. Average wages are below 100 dollars a week.

''But the problem of low birth rates cannot be resolved without a general change in the attitude of our society towards the issue of family and family values,'' Putin said.

More than 200,000 children lived in orphanages across Russia, he said, adding: ''It looks like foreigners are already adopting more (Russian) children than we are ourselves.'' Putin has set an ambitious target of doubling the oil-rich nation's gross domestic product in a decade, but some economists say it may be thwarted by the rapid decline in the population.

According to official data, Russia's population fell from around 148 million at the end of the communist era in 1991 to 145 million in 2003 and 143 million now.

Putin said Russia needed to reduce deaths from cardiovascular diseases often linked to heavy drinking and smoking and poor diet.

But for more immediate impact, Putin said the government would also open its door wider for migrant workers, a move that would favour Russia's ex-Soviet neighbours.

Up to 7 million foreign workers are estimated to be in Russia already, most of them illegally and often the target of corrupt officials and racist groups.

''It is necessary to stimulate an influx of qualified migrants, of educated and law-abiding ones,'' Putin said.

''People coming to Russia must treat Russian culture and our national traditions with respect.'' Reuters SY GC1722

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