Russian premier meets party leaders

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VLADIMIR PUTIN met the "glorious six" yesterday, as the Russian media called the leaders of the victorious parties in Sunday's parliamentary election, and the Prime Minister expressed the hope that they would all work constructively together.

The outgoing State Duma, dominated by the Communists, had frustrated President Boris Yeltsin, even trying to impeach him earlier this year. But the new assembly is more balanced, giving the Putin cabinet a better chance of support than any Russian government has enjoyed since the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

The new Duma will only begin its work in January, so Russians will rest from politics over their New Year holiday. But they will not be able to forget Chechnya, which was back dominating the news in Moscow yesterday.

NTV, the channel that has stayed most objective in the current patriotic climate, carried a BBC report about Russians having massacred 41 civilians in the town of Alkhan-Yurt, while also carrying the denials of the military. It also showed the Defence Minister, Igor Sergeyev, denying rumours that the storming of Grozny was imminent. "We do not take, we only liberate," Marshal Sergeyev said.

While Mr Putin talked to the politicians at the White House, the seat of government, President Yeltsin received the election supervisor, Alexander Veshnyakov, in the Kremlin to thank him for his efforts. It was Mr Veshnyakov who worked to weed out candidates with criminal records.

Candidates only accused of corruption, however, did find their way into the new Duma, where they will have immunity from prosecution.

A Yeltsin "family" member, the tycoon Boris Berezovsky, won a seat, which should add to the President's satisfaction at seeing the new Unity or "Bear" party do well.

"Bear" was created this autumn to support Mr Putin, whom Mr Yeltsin hopes to see succeed him in the Kremlin next year. The party's association with the Prime Minister, hugely popular because of the way he is punishing Chechnya, explained its strong performance. It is expected to have some 160 places in the 450-seat Duma, about the same number as the Communists.