Putin Warns of Pre-Election Threats

The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 31, 2007; 10:53 AM

MOSCOW -- President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday warned of a threat of extremism and ethnic and religious intolerance in the months before parliamentary elections and he ordered law enforcement agencies to do more to protect Russia's secrets.

Speaking to agents from the Federal Security Service and other police officials, Putin also said they needed to do more to combat the corruption that continues to plague the country.

"It's important not only to guarantee law and order, but also to protect society from attempts to throw the ideology of extremist, ethnic and religious intolerance onto the social-political field," Putin said.

"This work must be done strictly in line with the law and all of your steps must be based on the constitution and Russian laws," he said in televised comments.

Russia will hold elections for the lower house of parliament, the State Duma, in December, and for president in March 2008.

Putin also said the FSB _ a successor agency to the KGB _ and other law enforcement agencies must do more to prevent commercial and state secrets from leaking.

He said modern Russia was confidently integrating itself into the world economy, and that "it is important not to allow leaks of protected information from political and economic spheres."

Last year, Putin signed into law a bill under which slander or libel of government officials can qualify as extremism.

The government argued the law was needed to fight growing racism and xenophobia, but journalism watchdogs and rights groups said it would further restrict Russia's media climate and diminish civil rights.

© 2007 The Associated Press