Putin attacks 'terror' live on TV

MOSCOW, Russia (CNN) --President Vladimir Putin has hit out at "criminals" and "terrorists" spreading violence In Russia in the name of Islam, in a live TV question-and-answer session with the nation.
Putin replied to questions for more than two-and-a-half hours
Thursday, December 19, 2002      8:43 AM EST

"This is a problem which has been injected into our country from outside," he said.  "These are either religious fanatics or people who are only covering themselves with the slogans of Islam."

Putin's comments during Thursday's two-and-a-half hour session come amid growing concern among Russians over the war in Chechnya and worries of a possible repeat of the Moscow theatre siege carried out by Chechen rebels in October in which more than 100 people died. (Full story)

Putin said "terrorists" were carrying out what they had been ordered to do "and they are doing it for money -- they're mercenaries."

He added the Chechen issue could not be solved by military means -- the army had "done its job" and it was time to move towards elections there, he declared.

More than a million Russians flooded Putin with questions, most of which were collected via TV, radio and the Internet and addressed problems with pensions, taxes, salaries, housing -- though there were also questions about sex on TV and drug addiction.

One woman asked what the government would do to ease the workload for schoolchildren with too much homework, and an 11-year-old girl complained that the New Year tree in her town was artificial when it had been a real tree the year before.

In addition to the pre-collected questions, Putin answered live calls via video links with audiences in several regions, starting in the far east.

CNN's Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty said that TV trucks with video screens had been set up in towns across Russia for the "over the heads of the bureaucrats and the media" talk-in.

She said there were 1.3 million questions, compared with 500,000 for Putin's first such question-and-answer session a year ago, and that one newspaper estimated that calls had come in at one every 30 seconds.

The real value to ordinary people was their ability to talk to Putin over the heads of Russia's enormous bureaucracy, she said.

The Russian president said that Russia's economic growth this year would be "a little more than four percent" -- above the target of 3.5 percent.

He added that inflation would be 15 percent, just above the planned 14 percent, but below the previous year's 18.6 percent.

Last year, Putin directed his subordinates to look into two personal hardship cases raised by questioners: a pension that had not increased despite new regulations and a village that had not been included in the regional gas grid.

The latter got prompt attention. Before the broadcast was over, Putin read aloud a report from the state-affiliated Gazprom natural gas giant saying the village, in the southern region of Krasnodar, would be hooked up the next month.

However, TVS television reported last week that most houses in the village remained without gas because inhabitants were told they would have to spend large amounts of money to pay for their own hookups.

Chechnya hit the headlines again in Russia this week when Putin fired his top general in the troubled region.

Dougherty said that Col. Gen. Gennady Troshev had been offered the post of army commander in Siberia, but announced to journalists that he had no interest in leaving.

It was thought he had his sights on a political career, she said -- there is a referendum on the Chechen presidency in March -- and President Putin had no choice but to fire him.

-- CNN Moscow Bureau Chief Jill Dougherty contributed to this report.

Copyright 2002 CNN. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

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