Three Siberian regions vote to reunite, forming territory bigger than Western Europe

Residents of three sparsely populated Siberian regions have voted to reunite in a resource-rich territory that will be larger than Western Europe, Russian media reported Monday, extending the trend to increased Kremlin control over the country's far-flung provinces.

The Izvestia daily predicted that Sunday's referendum on reunification of the Krasnoyarsk region with the Evenki and Taimyr autonomous districts would pave the way for a series of similar plebiscites aimed at bringing the number of Russian regions down from the current 89 to 35-40.

"Reduction of the number of federal subjects will increase the level of coordination and efficiency of regional authorities," Izvestia quoted Vladimir Yakovlev, the minister of regional development, as saying.

Some 92 percent of voters in the Krasnoyarsk region, a vast territory with a population of some 2.9 million, 3,400 kilometers (2,100 miles) east of Moscow, voted in favor of reunification, the ITAR-Tass news agency reported. The Taimyr region, with a population of 40,000, had about 70 percent in favor, and the Evenki region of 17,700 had 79 percent support for the referendum.

The reunited region will be almost the same size as the Krasnoyarsk region of Soviet times. The two other districts had been given some autonomy in a gesture to the indigenous ethnic groups that dominate them, and they had been net recipients of federal aid _ in contrast to Krasnoyarsk, one of the nation's heavy industrial regions, which has long been a net donor.

The entire region boasts thick forests, abundant mineral deposits and extensive if antiquated industrial infrastructure. Izvestia said it would get about US$10 billion (Ђ7.7 billion) in state investment as part of a development program accompanying reunification.

Since his 2000 election, President Vladimir Putin has steadily restored Moscow's control over Russia's sprawling regions, carving up governors' political and economic powers and appointing his own representatives to keep watch.

In 2003, the Perm and Komi regions voted to unite in a test case for consolidating the provinces. Izvestia predicted that among the regions that could be expected to unite in near future are Moscow and the surrounding Moscow region, and St. Petersburg and the Leningrad region.

JUDITH INGRAM, Associated Press Writer

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