Putin plans to rewrite constitution to build a new centralised state dictatorship

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The Independent Online

President Vladimir Putin will tighten his grip on Russia in the autumn with constitutional changes aimed at controlling politicians and pressure tactics to secure the loyalty of businessmen and journalists, a leading Russian newspaper has alleged.

President Vladimir Putin will tighten his grip on Russia in the autumn with constitutional changes aimed at controlling politicians and pressure tactics to secure the loyalty of businessmen and journalists, a leading Russian newspaper has alleged.

Analysts said that if the plan was brought to fruition, Russia would lose the pluralism of the Yeltsin years and revert to totalitarian rule. Only this time it would be a dictatorship aimed at building capitalism rather than communism.

Mr Putin, in interviews with Western media, has committed himself to the principles of democracy. And Segodnya, the newspaper that wrote about the alleged plan, belongs to the independent media mogul, Vladimir Gusinsky, who is critical of the Kremlin. The paper has been accurate in the past.

It says that the recent decision by Mr Putin to create a new State Council has far-reaching implications. Most commentators had assumed that the council would be a talking shop to compensate regional governors, who have now lost their right to sit in the upper house of parliament. But last week, Mr Putin suggested that the council might have constitutional status - which would mean rewriting of the 1993 constitution of the former president, Boris Yeltsin.

Segodnya said this was part of a plan to change the entire structure of Russian government. The council of about 20, with the president at its head, would decide when to declare war or a state of emergency, and endorse the budget. How the 20 would be chosen was unclear, but the deputy head of the council would in effect be vice-president, reducing the status of the prime minister. "The government will lose considerable weight and will become a technical division of the Kremlin," said the newspaper.

The last of the new laws that tighten presidential control over the regional governors and the parliament were signed by Mr Putin on Saturday. The governors not only lose their upper house seats, to be replaced by appointed legislators by 2002, they also lose immunity from criminal prosecution and can be fired by Mr Putin for violations of the law.

The Segodnya article stated that after emasculating the governors, President Putin had plans to weaken the state Duma. The registration of parties would become more difficult, so that small, opposition forces would disappear and Russia would be left with only the Communists and the pro-Kremlin Unity Party, artificially created last autumn.

In addition, Segodnya said that further pressure would be put on businesses and the media to make them loyal to the state.

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