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Russian health minister faces storm after graft case

Written by: Staff

MOSCOW, Nov 20 (Reuters) Russia's health and social security minister refused to resign today despite a corruption scandal at a medical insurance fund and breaches of public service rules at two agencies under his control.

Mikhail Zurabov said he did not rule out that people were trying to drive him from his job, but he said that resigning would be too easy.

''This is the decision which seems to me the most simple,'' said Zurabov, looking shaken said at a press conference shown on Russian television channels.

''Our understanding of how events will develop is rather limited at the moment, but it evidently is not a question of additional supplies of medicine,'' he said.

Zurabov, 53, provoked nation-wide anger in early 2005 when the government tried to implement a reform he helped design to replace dozens of Soviet-era benefits with cash.

But as millions of pensioners faced charges for benefits that were previously free, people called demonstrations across the country and President Vladimir Putin rebuked the government for curdling the Kremlin-backed reforms.

Zurabov, a flamboyant manager with a fiery temper, was made minister on March 9, 2004. He has tried to push through reforms to Russia's ailing pensions and health systems, but has faced stiff opposition from doctors and local officials.

Russian police last week arrested the director of the Russian State Medical insurance fund and five other senior employees for bribe taking.

The Prosecutor General said today in a statement that it had found breaches of the law on public service at two bodies controlled by the health and social security ministry.

Officials at the Federal Service for Health and Social Security Supervision and the Federal Agency for Health and Social Development had failed to comply with rules on declaring income and property, the Prosecutor General said.

The fund and the two agencies declined to comment.

Putin says the fight against corruption, which affects all sections of Russian life, is one of his priorities.

Reuters SP DB2354

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