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New Cabinet to be formed by Friday - PM Zubkov

BOCHAROV RUCHEI, September 18 (RIA Novosti) - The structure of the new Cabinet will be formed by Friday, September 21, the Russian prime minister said Tuesday.

"The structure will be defined within a time span set by law, that is, seven days after my confirmation," Viktor Zubkov told reporters after a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

Acting Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov has offered his resignation to the president over family relations with the newly appointed premier.

Zubkov said: "The [acting] defense minister, who is my close relative... today offered his resignation to the president."

President Vladimir Putin signed a decree last Friday appointing Viktor Zubkov prime minister after the lower house of parliament voted overwhelmingly to back his candidacy.

Zubkov, 65, chief fiscal monitor for the last six years, was nominated for the job last Wednesday when Putin dismissed the government and prime minister, three months before parliamentary elections. Soon after his nomination, Zubkov announced his intention to run for the presidency in March 2008, when Putin's term is set to expire.

Speaking in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, Putin confirmed that the new premier could run for the presidency, but said there were at least four other strong candidates, and that the campaign would not be a foregone conclusion.

The president's nomination of the relatively-unknown candidate came as a surprise, following widely-circulated rumors that Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov, Putin's close ally seen as his likely successor, would assume the post.

Zubkov, Putin's deputy in the St. Petersburg mayor's office in the 1990s, has also maintained close personal ties with the president.

Viktor Zubkov won the solid backing of the State Duma, dominated by the Kremlin-backed United Russia party. United Russia, along with A Just Russia and the Liberal Democrats, led by ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, had pledged its support ahead of the vote.

In the Duma, 381 lawmakers backed the presidential nominee, 47 voted against, and eight MPs abstained. The candidate needed 200 votes to be elected to the post.

In his brief speech to lawmakers before the vote in the legislature, Zubkov pledged his commitment to policies pursued by President Putin, highlighting economic growth, the revival of the defense sector and agriculture, and welfare and corruption as chief government priorities, and urging greater individual responsibility.

Zubkov pledged changes to the government, above all to the Health and Social Development Ministry, which has recently been plagued by a series of corruption scandals.

Speaking on corruption, a crusade waged by Putin during his tenure, Zubkov told MPs that new legislation was required. "We must pass a law on corruption, as we have discussed this at length, but have not reached a clear definition of what it is."

Zubkov said a body to fight corruption, similar to the Federal Financial Monitoring Service he co-founded and headed, should also be set up. He pledged proper controls over federal funds allocated to the defense sector and state-controlled aircraft and shipbuilding corporations.

The new premier also urged for more efficient use of natural resources, which make up Russia's main exports, to ensure higher revenues.