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Draft law offers Russia's Putin even more power

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, Sept 10 (Reuters) A draft law sponsored by the Russian government would give President Vladimir Putin the power to sack regional governors charged with minor crimes before they even stand trial.

The proposal, still to be debated in parliament after Cabinet approved it on Thursday, is likely to fuel concern that Putin has accumulated too much power. His critics say he has already silenced dissent on television, cowed businessmen into being loyal and neutered governors by making them Kremlin appointees.

''The proposed measure, in our view, will help strengthen the state hierarchy in Russia and will also will help maintain discipline among (governors),'' the draft law's authors said in a preamble presented to ministers.

Putin already has extensive powers to sack governors and the draft law, if approved, will give him one more mechanism.

Existing legislation gives the president the right to sack a governor if prosecutors charge him with a serious crime. The proposal would lower that threshold to include minor offences, for which the maximum punishment is five years' jail.

That means Putin could fire a governor who, for example, had been charged with dangerous driving after knocking over and injuring a pedestrian. Putin can order the sacking within 48 hours, without waiting for a trial.

Kremlin critics say criminal charges in Russia are often fabricated for political reasons, leaving the new mechanism open to abuse.

Putin used his existing powers to sack the governor of the Nenets Automous District in the Arctic Circle in July.

Prosecutors charged Alexei Barinov with several counts of embezzlement which qualified as a serious crime. His supporters said he was framed by rivals who wanted control of the region's oil reserves.

Putin has defended the Kremlin's growing power by saying it is essential to restore order and respect for the law after years of chaos.

Governors were directly elected until a 2004 Kremlin-sponsored law abolished the elections.

Would-be governors are now put forward by Putin and the regional legislative assembly votes on his nomination. Putin does not have to nominate the incumbent. No one has so far rejected his nominee.

The same law that abolished direct elections also gave Putin the right to sack governors in mid-term if they ''lost the president's trust ... because of a failure to fulfil their duties in the appropriate manner.'' REUTERS PKS PM2149

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