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Russia Presents Crisis Plan

The Russian government presented its economic plans to tackle an acute economic crisis to parliament on Tuesday, surprisingly winning at least partial endorsement by both Communists and centrists.

The cabinet of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, which is nearing its 100th day in the office, is seeking rapid passage of its anti-crisis program, which includes the 1999 budget.

Communists, the leading force in the State Duma lower house, like the plan's vague outline of a greater state role in the economy and calls for a "socially-oriented" market economy. These points, as well as a proposal to print money to cover budget needs, have already alienated foreign creditors.

The plan, which has not been made public, aims to pull Russia out of a crisis that erupted in August when the previous government devalued the ruble and froze debt repayments.

Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov's support for the plan is hardly likely to endear it to the International Monetary Fund. That group is holding back on further credits to Russia.

Zyuganov said he would not mind "a tough 1999 budget."

Zyuganov said before Tuesday's hearing that the anti-crisis plan was "a step forward towards the real economy and the social protection of citizens." He praised the government's desire to help domestic producers and the defence industry.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary leader of the centrist Our Home is Russia group, Alexander Shokhin, lauded the government's "diplomatic maneuvering," which he said allowed it to present liberal approaches and some tough monetarist proposals despite generally conservative guidelines.

For now, the anti-crisis plan is a series of scenarios ranging from worst-case to optimistic. Shokhin said the cabinet was most likely to go for tough economic decisions, as the prospects of getting foreign credits or debt reschdeduling were unclear.

Shokhin said such steps were likely to dent relations between the government and the Duma, which have been relatively good since Primakov took over.

Primakov is a compromise figure approved by the chamber after President Boris Yeltsin -- who has been recovering for the last several weeks from another bout of ill health -- was forced to drop his first choice to end a political stalemate.

Despite Tuesday's positive note, concrete economic proposals have so far failed to materialize.

Meanwhile, Russia's precarious economic situation and poor weather conditions have raised the specter of food shortages in parts of the world's largest country.

Drought and high temperatures have drastically hit Russia's food crop production and the most vulnerable socio-economic groups will feel it, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization said on Tuesday.

"The most vulnerable socio-economic groups -- pensioners, orphans, the unemployed and households dependent on public salaries, can expect a rough winter, especialy in the large depressed industrial cities," the U.N. report said.

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