Author`s name Pravda.Ru

Russian citizens ask Putin during the Web conference

A few hours before the webcast was to start at 1300 GMT, nearly a million Russians had voted on some 140,000 questions for the Russian leader.

The online conference, organized by Yandex.ru and the BBC's online Web site, is to last for one hour and 45 minutes. It is the third time that Putin has taken part in live Webcasts since he was elected in 2000.

The Russian leader, who will field the questions at the Kremlin, every year holds a televised phone-in with the Russian population as well as an annual press conference, both events that last several hours.

But Russian Internet users have voted for some more offbeat questions, although the Russian president is unlikely to respond to them.

At top of the list, more than 20,290 Russians asked whether Russia will use giant humanoid robots to defend itself.

The second most popular question was what did Putin think of one of the two leading contenders to replace him in 2008, Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.

In third place, nearly 16,000 wanted to know why Putin kissed the stomach of a little boy during a walk-about at the Kremlin last Wednesday. In an unusual incident broacast on Russian state television, the president went up to a group of tourists in the Kremlin courtyard, lifted up the T-shirt of the boy and kissed his belly.

Many people wanted to know what the Russian leaders planned to do about the problem of affordable housing and military conscription as well as racism and homophobia.

Foreigners were mostly serious-minded in their questions. The British Broadcasting Corp., which uses a moderator to filter out inappropriate questions, said that the most prominent issues were corruption, the difficulty in getting Russian visas, racist violence and the future of the war-torn province of Chechnya.