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Russia's upper house approves Kremlin-friendly head
By Clara Ferreira-Marques

MOSCOW, Dec 5 (Reuters) - Russia's upper house of parliament elected regional leader Serguei Mironov as its new speaker on Wednesday, boosting President Vladimir Putin's grip over a chamber already largely stripped of its political clout.

The long-serving head of the Federation Council, Yegor Stroyev, bowed out on Tuesday after he was re-elected governor of the Oryol region south of Moscow.

Wide-ranging changes enacted since Putin came to power in May 2000 no longer allow regional governors to sit in parliament.

Mironov, 48, the head of the local assembly in Putin's native city of St Petersburg, is seen to be close to the Kremlin. He was voted in with near-unanimous approval.

Putin early on in his presidency set about clipping the wings of a chamber that towards the end of Boris Yeltsin's rule had become largely a power base for the bosses of Russia's 89 regions.

Plans by regional chiefs to place a loyal leader in the Kremlin after Yeltsin's departure failed when Putin's rising popularity propelled him to victory in the 2000 elections.

Crushed, the Council last year voted for a reform package which effectively stripped the body of its authority, with presidential envoys to seven newly created 'super-regions' further keeping local leaders in check.


Stroyev, a leftist governor, had long embodied the calm confidence of Russia's regional elite and its role in state affairs.

For many in the Council, reports said, his departure marked the end of an era for the institution.

"(This council) was formed for a transition period when all the ruling elite sat in this room," Stroyev said in televised remarks. "Only that quality, or rather this parliament, this senate, allowed us to overcome the turbulence in society."

Putin, who addressed the chamber after the vote, thanked Stroyev, 60, for his work.

"Two months ago I asked him to stay on as speaker, but he chose the Oryol region," the president said in remarks broadcast on NTV.

The eviction of regional governors from the Federation Council, together with a loyal majority in the State Duma lower house, has given Putin free rein to push through legislation. Yeltsin often met opposition to from either the fractious Duma or the powerful upper house.

The last governor must step down by 2002.

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