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RA’s Daily Russian News Blast – Jan 20, 2010

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TODAY: Medvedev groups volatile regions into new district, appoints business-savvy head; announces demographic-boosting plans and sends new ambassador to Ukraine. Patriarch Kirill and Yulia Latynina weigh in on Haiti; police detain protesters marching for Markelov and Baburova; prisoners on hunger strike.
Russia will group its most volatile North Caucasus republics together into a new federal district, according to President Dmitry Medvedev, who appointed the district a new deputy prime minister: Alexander Khloponin, ‘a weathered politician with a past in big business‘.  Medvedev’s focus for the new appointment, reportedly, is on ‘clamping down on economic crime and nurturing economic development‘ – a means of getting to the root of terrorist violence.  The President also outlined his plan to boost Russia’s population, after yesterday’s reports that the birthrate had increased for the first time in 14 years, and announced that Russia would send an ambassador to Ukraine to replace the one it recalled last year, after it became clear that Viktor Yushchenko would not be returning to the presidency.  

Reports saythat Russia’s Orthodox Patriarch Kirill announced that crime, drugs andcorruption caused Haiti’s disastrous earthquake last week, blaming theHaitians for turning away from God.  A church spokesman insists thatKirill’s words had been ‘misinterpreted‘ and ‘taken out of context.‘  The usually astute Yulia Latynina has also weighed in on the Haiti debate, suggesting that voodoo armies and Cannibal rebels are driving US military aid groups away (here’s a report that balances that).  The Moscow Times has more information on the weekend’s $15 million bribe arrests.  
Moscow police clashed with protesters rallying to mark the first anniversary of the murders of Stanislav Markelov and Anastasia Baburova.  The Other Russia reports the number of protesters as 600, with 24 ‘beaten and detained by police’ as a result of ‘lighting smoke bombs and unfurling banners‘.  Police reported that just 200 people had rallied, and other sources report up to 60 arrests.  Inmates of a Novocherkassk prison are on hunger strike to protest abuses and violations.  
PHOTO:Police clashes with protesters during a rally in central Moscow,January 19, 2010. Protesters gathered in the centre of Moscow, markinga year since human rights lawyer Stanislav Markelov and oppositionjournalist Anastasia Baburova were murdered. REUTERS/Sergei Fadeichev