Putin answers questions in annual televised broadcast

In what has become an annual tradition, Russian President Vladimir Putin appeared Tuesday in a live, televised question-and-answer session.

People were asked to pose their questions by Internet, telephone, text message or video linkup with selected audiences in 12 towns across the nation. Over 700,000 advance questions had been collected by the eve of the broadcast.

The first question, posed by one of the channels, was on Russia's economic performance - giving Putin an opening to demonstrate his government's campaign to raise living standards.

The population's real wages have grown 8.5 to 10 percent annually, according to Putin. Retirees' incomes will rise 7.9 percent this year. The economy as a whole has grown about 7 percent annually over the past few years, he pointed out.

"All this together creates an absolutely stable situation in the country. People can plan their lives, expand their horizons for planning in terms of the family and business, and what is very important is that all this has created the preconditions for major solutions to the social problems that have built up," Putin said.

His comments reflected the Kremlin's new emphasis on social programs, unveiled in a presidential speech to lawmakers this month, which some analysts see as a Kremlin attempt to head off any revolutionary mood among Russians in advance of the 2008 presidential elections.

In response to a question on high fuel prices, Putin on Tuesday accused Russia's eight largest oil companies of setting monopoly prices. He said the government would soon introduce a new system of taxes on the companies and take steps to stabilize oil prices, the AP reports.

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